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Sun Safety Tips: How to Avoid and Identify Skin Cancer

Aug. 30, 2021

As we look forward to the last few weeks of summer, it is important to be diligent about sun safety.

In order to best protect ourselves, it’s important to be aware of the risks that harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause: skin damage and in some cases, skin cancer.

What better time of year than summer? This year’s summer has certainly been out of the ordinary as we continue to live in this COVID-19 world. As we look forward to soaking up the last weeks of summer, we must continue to be diligent about our sun care routines.

Concerns about sun exposure go far beyond the result of sunburn or peeling skin. The greatest concern about exposing our skin to the harmful rays of the sun is the heightened risk for skin damage and in some cases, skin cancer which is the most common cancer of all types. Both men and women are at risk for skin cancer.

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. All of these are caused by too much sun exposure and therefore, too little sun protection.

A safe summer in the sun is still possible. There are three main strategies to prevent sunburn and sun damage, which starts with limiting sun exposure. Sunblock should always be worn when you plan to be exposed to the sun. You should look for a sunblock that is at least SPF 30, sweatproof, waterproof and one that blocks UVA and UVB rays. In addition, you should look for a sunblock that contains helioplex, zinc oxide or titanium oxide. You should always make sure that you don’t forget to apply sunblock to the most commonly missed spots which are: the part in the hair, tops of the ears, back of the neck and lips. You should also reapply to the arms and face after 45-60 minutes of activity.

There are many misconceptions about tanning, sunscreen and sun exposure.

  • Misconception #1: A tan is your body’s response to protect itself from too much sun. The truth is that tanned skin only gives you about an SPF 5 protection.
  • Misconception #2: Darker skin doesn’t need sunscreen or shade. The truth is that dark skin also burns and long-term sun exposure causes wrinkles, sagging and apparent skin aging.
  • Misconception #3: Sweatproof or waterproof sunscreen doesn’t need to be replaced. The truth is that intense exercise or activities can make your sunscreen ineffective in about an hour.
  • Misconception #4: If you tan, you don’t need sunscreen. The truth is that everyone should protect their skin with sunscreen.

Through practicing sun safety and other prevention methods, you can ensure the protection of your skin beyond just sun damage. Full sun safety begins with following a few simple rules, including:

  • Avoid indoor tanning booths.
  • Limit time in the sun when UV light the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day.
  • Use sunglasses that have UVA/UVB protection.

Another very important sun safety practice is performing a skin checkup. Skin checkups can serve as early detection of skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Prevention

Skin cancer has a variety of symptoms and varying levels of severity. In general, some common symptoms of skin cancer include a mole that itches or is sore, a mole that oozes, bleeds or becomes crusty, a mole that looks different from other moles, a sore that doesn’t heal or a mole that becomes red or swollen at its edges.

If symptoms of skin cancer are discovered, the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center is home to exceptional services as well as world-class physicians. “The UC Cancer Center is a great resource for Greater Cincinnatians,” said William Barrett, MD, co-director of the UC Cancer Center, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the UC College of Medicine and a UC Health physician.

Recognizing Risk Factors of Melanoma

Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer that usually occurs in areas of the body exposed to the sun and has a high chance to spread throughout the body. Melanoma is the most common cause of death from cancer in women 25 to 30, but when detected early can have a very high cure rate.

Melanomas can be treated with either a local or systematic approach. This includes surgery and radiation. This surgical method is the most common way to treat melanoma. Systemic approaches are used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled around the body. For example, when taken by a pill or injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment as is immunotherapy.

The ABCDE Rule: Identifying a Cancerous Mole

More specifically, early symptoms of an early-stage melanoma are often a change in an existing mole or the appearance of a new mole. The ABCDE rule can help determine a normal mole from one that might be cancerous. This rule clearly lays out the specifics of the symptoms and stands for the following:

  • Asymmetry: one half does not match the other half.
  • Border irregularity: the edges of the mole are ragged or irregular.
  • Color: varies from one area to another and may contain shades of black and brown or sometimes patches of white, red or blue.
  • Diameter: mole is bigger than 6 millimeters across, about half the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolving: the mole is changing in shape or color.

“At the UC Cancer Center, our skin cancer team includes scientists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, diagnostic radiologists, pathologists and dermatologists. This group has exceptional expertise and is at the forefront of advancements in the field,” said Dr. Barrett.

To schedule an appointment with one of our dermatologists, please call 513-475-7630.