5 Ways to Prevent Melanoma and Other Forms of Skin Cancer
By Jane Meggitt
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Approximately 7,180 people die from melanoma each year, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 106,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed. Many of these melanomas — and other forms of skin cancer such as squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas — are preventable.
Melanocyte cells are responsible for brown coloring in the skin. If these cells start growing out of control, the result is the skin cancer known as melanoma. You should suspect potential melanoma if a mole changes size or color, or if it bleeds. Skin lesions with irregular borders or sections that are red, blue, black or white are possible melanomas. The same holds true for large brown spots with dark speckling within. Melanomas may appear anywhere on the body.
While anyone may develop melanoma, some are at greater risk than others. These include people with:
- Fair skin
- Light hair
- History of severe sunburns
- Family history of the disease
- Compromised immune systems
Men are at somewhat higher risk of developing melanoma than women.
Melanomas can spread rapidly throughout the body, invading various organs. While often fatal once they have metastasized, early detection and surgical removal can provide a cure. The CDC points out that those who succumb to melanoma lose an average of 20 years of their life expectancy.
5 Melanoma Prevention Tips
There is no guaranteed way to prevent melanoma. However, by avoiding harmful ultraviolet rays, you can lower your risk of developing it and other skin cancers. That means no tanning — which is an unhealthy practice. Tanning damages skin and increases melanoma risk.
Here are some basic melanoma prevention tips:
1. Sunscreen is Vital
Staying out of the sun in the heat of the day is the best way to avoid skin cancer. Try to stay inside or in a shaded area from mid-morning to late afternoon, whenever possible, to minimize exposure.
Whenever you are outside during the day, wear sunscreen. Choose sunscreen with a minimum Sun Protection Factor of 30. Higher SPF numbers are even better.
Make sure to reapply sunscreen after swimming or exercising in which you break a sweat. In general, reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Use sunscreen throughout the year — even in winter. While the sun’s UV rays are stronger in hot weather, its rays can still affect skin when it is cold. Keep in mind that UV rays are present even on cloudy days.
2. Wear Protective Clothing
When outdoors in warm weather, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts and pants or skirts to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.
Sun-protective clothing is designed to block UV rays. The Ultraviolet Protection Factor indicates how much radiation the article of clothing will block. For instance, a UPF 50 blocks all but 2% of the sun’s rays. Only consider clothing with a UPF of at least 30, and purchase garments with a UPF 50 or above rating, for best results.
3. No Tanning Beds
Using tanning beds or sunlamps is not safer than sunbathing. These devices give off harmful UV rays. In fact, the UV rays from tanning beds exceed that of direct sun exposure.
The American Cancer Society notes that tanning bed use has been linked with increased melanoma risk. That association is particularly strong for those who began using tanning beds before age 30. Nearly one-third of non-Hispanic white women between the ages of 16 and 25 patronize indoor tanning facilities each year.
4. Monthly Mole Inspection
The more moles on the body, the greater the risk of melanoma development. Individuals with prevalent moles must be extra vigilant.
The American Cancer Society recommends that you Inspect your moles monthly and take note of any changes. If you spot changes, call a doctor as soon as possible. It is also recommended that you schedule an annual visit with a dermatologist to have them view all moles.
5. Know Your Family History
If someone in your immediate family (parents, siblings or child) has been diagnosed with melanoma, you are 2 to 3 times more likely than the average person to fall victim to this form of skin cancer. Knowing your family history can help you take preventative measures to get your skin checked out more regularly and understand the warning signs and risks earlier on.
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Jane Meggitt’s writing has appeared in dozens of publications including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.
Skin Cancer Foundation – May Is Skin Cancer Awareness Month!
American Cancer Society – Key Statistics for Melanoma Skin Cancer
American Cancer Society – Can Melanoma Skin Cancer Be Prevented?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Preventing Melanoma
Mayo Clinic – 5 steps to help prevent skin cancer
American Cancer Society – Risk Factors for Melanoma Skin Cancer
Skin Cancer Foundation – Sun-Protective Clothing
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – Indoor Tanning: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays