May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and we are starting with Melanoma Monday.
I have written several times about UV protection and skin cancer. It is a very important topic to me and one I can’t stress enough. Throughout this month I will continue to talk about types of skin cancer as well as give you tips for sun protection.
Several years ago, my mother was diagnosed with melanoma. She was very fortunate to have caught it early and had a complete excision without the need for further treatment. But this isn’t the usual scenario for melanoma. While melanoma is the least common of the 3 major skin cancers, it has the highest chance of spreading to other body parts (metastasis) compared to other forms of skin cancer. On average, one person in the US dies every hour from melanoma.
What is Melanoma?
Cancer refers to any cell that divides and grows out of control. Melanoma is the uncontrolled growth of melanocytes, a type of skin cell. These cells normally produce the pigment melanin when exposed to UV in order to protect our skin. But once melanoma develops, they may or may not continue to produce pigment. This can make it difficult to detect as melanoma can be any color, or multiple colors.
Who is at Risk?
Sun exposure early in life is directly linked to melanoma. Those who use tanning beds before the age of 30 can increase their risk of melanoma by up to 75%! Other risk factors include fair skin, large amounts of freckles or moles, light-colored eyes, light hair, and family history.
If you are at high risk for melanoma, you should be getting a whole body scan from a dermatologist once a year. If checking your moles at home, there are a few things you can look for. First is the “ugly duckling”. This means that any mole that looks different from your other moles should be looked at by a physician.
There is another easy tool to remember: ABCDE
- Border Irregularities
- Color Variation
- Diameter greater than 6mm
- Enlargement or change in any mole
Ask your doctor to take a look if any of these apply to a mole you have.
This is the easy part, sunscreen! Protecting yourself from sun exposure is the best way to decrease your risk of melanoma. Everyday you should be wearing at least SPF 30 on any body part that is exposed. Clothing can provide excellent sun protection as well as large-brimmed hats. Staying out of direct sunlight when the sun is at its highest point in the afternoon is always a good idea. Most people, women especially, tend to get a decent amount of SPF from makeup and face lotions. But don’t neglect other body parts. If reducing your cancer risk isn’t enough incentive, wearing sunscreen every single day can decrease the appearance of aging by 24% in 4 years. Beauty and health, all from one product!
Use a product on your face that will not feel oily or greasy. If you don’t know it’s there, you are more likely to use it consistently! My favorite is still the Chanel UV Essentiel. The only time I don’t apply it is when I am using their makeup base that also contains SPF 40 with Zinc Oxide.