By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Simply put, skin cancer or melanoma is one of the deadliest of skin cancers.
In 2019, it is estimated that there will be 96,480 new cases of melanoma in the United States and 7,230 deaths from the disease, according to the Melanoma Foundation. In the U.S., melanoma continues to be the fifth most common cancer in men of all age groups.
Rates of diagnosis for the disease have increased dramatically over the past three decades, outpacing almost all other cancers. Today, it is one of the most common cancers found among young adults in the United States.
Ultraviolet rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps. UV rays can penetrate and change skin cells.
“If diagnosed early, it is a very curable disease. There is a 90% survival rate within the first five years,” said physician Csaba Gajdos, clinical associate professor at University at Buffalo and also chief of general surgery at the Buffalo VAMC.
“Too often people ignore symptoms and just don’t know how much damage has been done.”
Gajdos, who has more than two decades in the surgical treatment of complex melanomas and other cancers, offers five tips for skin care during the summer.
1. Watch your exposure to the sun
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow. UV rays are strongest and most harmful during midday.
“We all know after a very tough winter all we want to do is be outside in the summer during the summer,” said Gajdos. “But you should still be cautious about being outdoors all day without the proper protection for your skin.”
2. Watch symptoms
A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal or a change in a mole. Melanoma lesions are often darkly pigmented and could have some uneven borders. They can be a quarter inch in diameter.
“People who had previous sunburns at a young age should have regular appointments with a dermatologist,” said Gajdos. “They can give you recommendations and check to see if any pigment or legions are problematic.”
3. Cover up during the summer
If possible, seek shade under a tree, an umbrella or a pop-up tent. Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears and neck are easy to use and give great protection. Baseball caps are popular among kids, but they don’t protect their ears and neck. If your child chooses a cap, be sure to protect exposed areas with sunscreen. When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.
“We cannot overstate that when you can, go with long sleeves, hats and long pants for as long as possible,” he said.” That is especially the case for young children when parents want to do everything they can to protect their children early on from extreme sun exposure.”
4. Wear adequate sunscreen
Use broad spectrum sunscreen protection every time your child goes outside. For the best protection, apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so re-apply the same amount every two hours. Don’t forget to protect ears, noses, lips, and the tops of feet.
“People have to remember to keep applying sunscreen,” said Gajdos. “Just putting one application for the whole day before you go out will not suffice and leaves you vulnerable.”
5. Avoid tanning booths
Because tanning beds have been around for so long, many people believe using them to get a tan is a safer than exposure to sunlight. That is not true. Tanning beds radiate UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and damage collagen, the basic building block of our skin and elastin that helps us look younger, according to the Cleveland Clinic. There are studies that say your risk of skin cancer can go up 15% for every four tanning bed visits. There’s no such thing as a safe tanning bed, and there aren’t any tanning beds that don’t damage the skin.
“Tanning beds have been associated with melanoma. The damage that it causes to your skin is not worth the short-term glowing look that it gives you for the summer,” said Gajdos.