May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month!

By Aakshi Agarwal

The flip flops, pool towels and sunglasses are coming out as the school year draws to an end. But, the sunscreen shouldn’t be forgotten! Nearly 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in over two million people each year. That translates to roughly 1 in 5 Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetimes.

Skin cancer is mostly a lifestyle disease, meaning we can take steps to prevent the cancers. As a matter of fact, it has been dubbed one of the most preventable forms of cancer. There are three primary types of skin cancers; basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are commonly called non-melanoma skin cancers. Other types of skin cancers (though rare) are Merkel cell tumors and dermatofibrosarcoma protrueberans.

How can we prevent skin cancer? Try staying in the shade. Going for a walk? Try a nice stroll under the protection of the treetops. By a rule of thumb, if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s radiation is stronger. 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 65% of melanoma skin cancers are associated with high exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

While that nice tan might help you look better now, it won’t be worth it when you are going through intense chemotherapy. Regular tanners are 74% more likely to develop melanoma. Tanning bed users are nearly 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. The statistics are staggering and hard to believe, but the truth is harsh.

If you are planning to go out into the sun for a long period of time, cover up. A wide hat and flashy sunglasses will look great and protect you from the sun. Focus on wearing bright or dark colored fabrics rather than thinner materials.

Perhaps the most obvious way to protect against skin cancer is the most neglected. When your mother nags you to put on sunscreen, it’s in your best interest to listen. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For warmer summer days, try a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. While large doses of sunscreen may feel sticky, use at least 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body thirty minutes before going outside. If you sweat or swim, reapply sunscreen. Otherwise, regularly reapply sunscreen every two hours. Sunscreen helps prevent painful sunburn as well. The risk of developing melanoma doubles if you have had five or more sunburns at any point in your life. Most Americans have faced double or triple that many sunburns.

Moreover, if you haven’t been following these practices, examine yourself head-to-toe every month. It’s possible to detect early signs of skin cancer like suspicious moles by yourself. However, make sure you seen a physician for regular checkups before over-worrying.

Beyond understanding the risks of skin cancer for yourself, be sure to share the information with your friends and family. The walk in the park is perfectly fine under the shade but without proper protection, the risk of cancer is far too high. Cancer won’t be a walk in the park, but you can make your medical life one by avoiding high doses of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.