In honor of Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month we sat down with Dana-Farber dermatologist, Jennifer Lin, MD, from the Melanoma Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, to discuss ways to protect your skin and reduce your risk of developing melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. “It is important that people protect themselves from the sun and make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of melanoma to greatly reduce their risk of developing this preventable, but dangerous, disease.”
According to Lin and her team, here are the top five ways you can reduce your risk of developing melanoma:
- Make sure you’re coveredMost people don’t put on enough sunscreen. About one shot glass worth (2 to 3 tablespoons) of SPF 30 sunscreen is needed for your face and exposed areas of the skin. Don’t forget the neck, ears, top of the head, and hands while applying sunscreen. Sunscreen must be reapplied every 2 to 3 hours if you are outside for a long period of time. In addition, make sure beauty products like lip balm contain an SPF of 15 or higher. Oftentimes, it is easier to stay covered and use sun-protective clothing (a wide brimmed hat is an excellent investment!).
- Be smart about sun exposurePeople who are exposed to natural or artificial sunlight over long periods of time are at higher risk of developing melanoma. If you’re planning a day at the beach, or will be spending a long time outside, avoid excessive exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest. Taking preventative measures such as using sun block and wearing protective clothing will help reduce your risk of excess sun. It is never acceptable to use tanning salons to achieve a base tan as the bulbs in tanning boxes worsen the effects of ultraviolet light from the sun.
- Be shadyYour eyes are also at risk, uveal melanoma is a rare form of cancer involving one lining of the eye. The relationship between uveal melanoma and sunlight exposure is not entirely clear, but individuals who are of fair skin and light eyes are more susceptible to this cancer. To reduce your risk, wear eye protection year round, especially when skiing. Look for wrap-around sunglasses and ski goggles with UV protection.
- Know the risks associated with your skin type
To stay safe in the sun, be aware of how your skin type influences your risk of skin cancer. If you are very fair-skinned you are more susceptible to skin damage, however, having dark skin does not eliminate your risk. Other risk factors include, but are not limited to:
- A history of many blistering sunburns, especially as a child or teenager
- Several large or a high number of small moles
- A family history of unusual moles
- A family or personal history of melanoma
- Those that are immunosuppressed in any way (ie organ transplantation, other cancers)
- Know your ABCDE’sLin and her team recommend using the “ABCDE rule” to help determine when to consult a physician about a mole or skin change:
- A for asymmetry: One half is differently shaped than the other
- B for border irregularity: Jagged or blurred edges
- C for color: The pigmentation is not consistent
- D for diameter: Moles greater than six millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser)
- E for evolving: A mole changing in size, shape or color
Other symptoms of melanoma can include fast growing moles (including pink moles) that itch, bleed, or ulcerate.
For more information, the Melanoma Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center has expertise in treatment, prevention, and clinical research on this challenging form of skin cancer.
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