4 Facts About Melanoma Skin Cancer and How to Prevent It

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and with the weather quickly heating up in the DFW metroplex, it’s important to be self-aware of early-stage melanoma and the harmful effects of the sun.

Did you know that more than 5 million U.S. residents are diagnosed with skin cancer each year? In fact, skin cancer is America’s most common cancer. Fortunately, it is also one of the most preventable cancers. 

This month is a great time to shed light on the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and show you how you can get more involved in the movement to prevent skin cancer and save lives. To learn more, you can also visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website.

Below are some facts about the dangers of sun exposure and how to self-check yourself for early warning signs. 

1. Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.

With the kids out of school and long days with warm weather, summer is filled with a multitude of family-friendly activities outside. However, with hot summer days comes the risk of sunburn.

Scientists emphasize being cautious when tanning or getting long-term sun exposure. Repeated burning of the skin can increase the possibility of various forms of skin cancer. Further, tanning is harmful because your skin doesn’t begin to tan until dangerous UV rays have penetrated and impacted your skin. 

So, what is melanoma, and how can you prevent it? Melanoma is when the pigment-producing cells in the skin become cancerous. Symptoms include a new or unusual growth in an existing mole, and it can occur anywhere on the body. Treatment can include radiation, medications, surgery, or even chemotherapy.

When it comes to detecting the early signs of melanoma, it’s helpful to remember the “ABCDE” rule: 

  • Asymmetry — One-half of the mole’s shape does not match the other.
  • Border — The border of the mole (or edge) is notched, uneven, ragged, or blurred.
  • Color — The color of the mole might appear in shades of brown, black, tan, or even white, gray, red, or blue.
  • Diameter — The diameter is usually larger than ¼ inch in diameter, roughly the size of a pencil eraser. It may be smaller when first detected.
  • Evolving — The mole has changed in shape, size, appearance, or color (or is growing) in an area of previously normal skin. The texture of the mole may also change and become lumpy. In some cases, the skin lesion may itch, ooze, or bleed, but usually is not painful.

2. Not all sunscreens are created equal.

The most obvious solution to prevent sunburn is to stay indoors on high-heat days or remain in the shade. However, sometimes you just want to enjoy the summer sun. While sunscreen is critical, there are some types that are not effective or even have harmful ingredients.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher daily — this is with a normal amount of sun exposure. 

In fact, many people do not apply enough sunscreen coverage to even reach the SPF amount that is on the label, which is why you should always put on more than you think you need. 

For extra hot days, use sunscreen with SPF 50 and re-apply it every two hours. If you get wet, re-apply once you are out of the water. While there is water-resistant sunscreen, water-proof sunscreen does not exist. 

Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen

  • Tinosorb S and M
  • Mexoryl SX
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Avobenzone
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc oxide
  • PABA and trolamine salicylate PABA

For more tips on sun safety and staying hydrated in this North Texas heat, check out our blog: Staying Hydrated and Protected While Under the Sun.

3. About 3,000 new cases of Merkel cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year in the U.S.

Merkel cell carcinoma is rare but aggressive skin cancer. It appears as a painless, bluish-red or flesh-colored nodule (tumor), often on your face, head, or neck. It’s most common in older people, and long-term sun exposure or a weak immune system can increase your risk.

Merkel cell carcinoma tends to grow fast and spread quickly to other parts of your body. Treatment options will depend on whether the cancer has spread beyond your skin.

If you notice a mole or freckle that is changing in appearance, growing quickly, or bleeding after minor trauma (i.e., washing your skin or shaving), then it’s important to speak with your doctor as soon as possible to get it checked. 

In the instance where you need immediate medical care, visit your local ER Near Me or call 911. 

4. Some people are more prone to sunburn, but anyone can get burned.

While everyone’s skin can be affected by the sun and UV rays, people with light skin are much more likely to have their skin damaged (and to get skin cancer). That being said, darker-skinned individuals can also be affected.

Aside from skin tone, other factors can also affect your risk of sun damage. You need to be especially careful if you:

  • Have a family history of skin cancer
  • Have had skin cancer before
  • Have several moles, especially irregular or large ones
  • Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond, red, or light brown hair
  • Work indoors all week and then get intense sun exposure on weekends
  • Spend a lot of time outdoors
  • Have freckles and burn before tanning
  • Live or vacation at high altitudes
  • Live or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates  
  • Have certain autoimmune diseases
  • Have had an organ transplant
  • Have certain inherited conditions that increase your risk of skin cancer (i.e., xeroderma pigmentosum or nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome)
  • Have a weakened your immune system
  • Take medicines that make your skin more sensitive

What’s an additional way to protect your skin? Wear sun-protective clothing and actively use sun-protective gear. 

While it’s usually too hot to wear a long-sleeved shirt in the summer, you should aim to at least cover the tops of your shoulders and your chest. Don’t be afraid to stick a t-shirt over your kids’ bathing suits; it will protect their bare skin in ways sunscreen alone can’t. Hats and sunglasses are an easy way to protect your scalp and your face from the sun. For hats, the wider the brim, the more sun protection you will enjoy.

You Can Never Do Too Much to Protect Your Skin

When it comes to your skin and being out in the sun for an extended period of time, sunburn is the biggest immediate cause for concern. You can never do too much to protect your skin from sun exposure. 

You and your family’s skin health is extremely important to pay attention to year-round, especially during these high-heat months in North Texas, so we hope these tips will help.

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