The American Academy of Dermatology Association and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion have designated the month of May as National Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. Their hope is to increase awareness about prevention and detection of the most diagnosed type of cancer in America.
Dr. Ana Duarte of Florida’s Children’s Skin Center wants to take the challenge a step further, encouraging everyone – whether a sun worshipper or not – to know the facts about what skin cancer is, and how not to become a statistic, not only throughout May, but every day of the year.
What kind of skin cancers are there?
Dr. Duarte explains that there are three major types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma starts on an inner layer of the skin and is a very common type of skin cancer, but the least likely to spread.
- Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the thin flat squamous cells that make up the outer layer or surface of the skin. Squamous cells also can be found in the linings of certain organs including the digestive tract.
- Melanoma is the name most of us are familiar with. It starts in cells that form pigment (melanin) and is rarer than the other types of cancer. Melanoma starts as a mole and spreads more widely than other types of skin cancer. A very aggressive cancer, it can spread to other parts of the body.
How can you get skin cancer?
The UV (ultraviolet) radiation emitted by sunlight or from sunlamps or tanning booths is the most common cause of most skin cancers. But it’s not only bronzed native Floridians or lobster-skin tourists who are at risk. If your skin is exposed to the sun, you are at risk. That means if you love to drive with the windows open or walk to work and do not take preventive precautions, you could develop skin cancer.
When it comes to skin cancer, there is a ray of sunshine
There is a myth that only reckless people get skin cancer. Perhaps they don’t wear the appropriate level of sunscreen (if at all) or protective clothing. But this is not always the case and Dr. Duarte wants to be clear: when it comes to skin cancer, you don’t have to always find the sun, but the sun can easily find you.
The good news is, skin cancer, when detected early, can be treated and cured. The key to reducing cancer rates and improving the outlook for cancer patients is education. Specifically, teaching and learning how to reduce your risk for skin cancer and how to detect skin cancer early on.
As easy as A-B-C
When it comes to reducing the risk of getting skin cancer, Dr. Duarte advises there are a number of things you can do.
Check often for moles or skin irregularities on both yourself and your loved ones. Remember the ABCDE rule: Asymmetry (if you divide the mole in half, one half is not the mirror image of the other half), Border irregularity (usually a shady color; not defined), Color that is not uniform, Diameter greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser), and Evolving size, shape or color. Be sure to check (or have someone do it for you) between toes, behind ears, on the scalp and on the back.
Take precaution: simple things like wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen (even if you don’t plan on being in the sun for long), limiting exposure when the sun is the strongest, reapplying sunscreen after being in the water, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat all can limit that exposure to the sun.
Baby-proof your kids. Young children should never be exposed to direct sunlight without precautions, however, when using sunscreen, talk to your dermatologist first about the best one to use. If you can avoid aerosol sunscreens, opt for baby-safe broad-spectrum lotions with high SPF.
Don’t go to tanning beds. Long gone are the days of “quick-tan” products that would leave your skin with an orange hue. Instead, try a self-tanner or bronzer. Today’s bronzers add a healthy glow, offer moisture to the skin and some even are packed with SPF.
Be vigilant. Those who love social media can use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to spread awareness about the dangers of skin cancer and the summer sun to your family, friends and neighbors. Notice a friend is heading north to ski? Encourage that friend to pack sunscreen. Likewise, ensure your daily facial regime includes sunscreen in the mix.
Treat skin care as you would any other annual screening. It goes without saying that our kids get annual physicals and moms get regular mammograms. But what about your skin? It’s important to schedule a skin-health physical with your primary care physician or dermatologist each year. That way you can be sure to catch any problems early on, keep tabs on evolving concerns, and get prompt treatment should there be any ABCDE changes.
May is the month dedicated to skin cancer awareness, but that doesn’t mean the other eleven months of the year don’t matter. If you have questions or concerns about skin cancer, call Dr. Ana Duarte and her team today at (305) 669-6555 to request an appointment or screening at one of our locations in Miami, Coral Gables, Doral, Miami Lakes, Miramar, Kendall, or Palm Beach Gardens.
Dr. Duarte is board certified in both Dermatology and Pediatric Dermatology. She provides her expertise and care to children and adults of all ages and The Children’s Skin Center focuses on the latest medications and cutting-edge technology for the treatment of skin disorders among infants, children, and adults.