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Skin Cancer Awareness Month

As people get ready for shorts and sandals, this is a good time to check our skin for new and changing grow Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US, with over 1 million cases yearly. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, of these, between 40 and 50 percent aged 65 will have basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma at least once. Up to 90 percent of visible changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. One American dies of melanoma almost every hour. Early detection and treatment are critical to a better outcome and survival.

So what to look for? That answer is simple- anything new or changing. You should be able to look in a mirror from about 2-3 feet away (everything looks weird close up) and the spots should all be about the same color and shape. The one that stands out is the one to get checked. Traditionally we use the “ABCDE” rules. A is for asymmetric, in that the lesion is not uniform in shape (ie circle), B is for irregular borders, C is for color (usually dark), D is for diameter (6mm or pencil eraser size or larger), and E (the most important) is for evolution or changing. While these are attributed mostly to moles in finding melanomas, they can be used for any skin cancer.

The best form of prevention is avoidance of sun exposure. Tanning is a response to damage of the skin by UV (ultraviolet) rays (sunshine or artificial). There is no such thing as a “healthy” tan- all tans are the result of damage to the skin. EACH and EVERY type of skin cancer is related to UV exposure- the more exposure you get the higher the risk. Each visit to a tanning bed increases the risk of developing melanoma by almost 2%, EACH VISIT. Sunscreens now do a very good job of preventing UV damage, as long as they are used properly, and reapplied after the equivalent of swimming for 30 minutes. SPF 30 or higher is good for day to day (less than 2 hrs exposure), and 50+ better for long days-ie boat, beach or golf. All should carry a broad spectrum label as well. As for clothing, wide brimmed hats(more than 3 inches) are better than ball caps, which do little to protect ears, cheeks and chin. Tight weaved clothing better than loose, synthetic is better than cotton. A light cotton t-shirt has an spf of only about 4, and drops to almost zero if wet.

So, as we change from coats, sweaters, boots to t-shirts, shorts and flip flops, remember “see spot, see spot change, see your dermatologist!”

Robert S. Berger MD Dermatologist

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