It’s sunburn season, so before you head out to sunbathe, keep this in mind: Having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
Since more than two people in the U.S. die of skin cancer every hour, it’s vital to do what we can to prevent this far-too-prevalent disease.
It’s recommended that you do a head-to-toe self-exam of your skin every month. But while the statistics are scary, this monthly exam likely doesn’t make it to the top of your long to-do list. That’s why I’ve compiled three simple tips to help lower your chances of skin cancer.
Know your risk level
Anyone can get skin cancer, but certain factors (like multiple sunburns) can put you at a higher risk. The CDC lists several of these risk factors:
— A lighter natural skin color.
— Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
— Blue or green eyes.
— Blond or red hair.
— Certain types and a large number of moles.
— A family history of skin cancer.
— A personal history of skin cancer.
— Older age.
How many of these factors do you have? Being aware of the risk factors can empower you to make choices that will keep you and your loved ones safe. You don’t have to hunker down all summer if you burn easily, have a family history of skin cancer or are an older adult. But these factors may be a helpful reminder to put on a hat and get that vitamin D before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Also, a helpful tool can be found at https://www.epa.gov/enviro/uv-index-search that tells you how intense the UV radiation from the sun will be in your area today and gives recommendations accordingly.
Recognize cancerous moles
Have you ever looked at a mole and wondered if you should be worried about it? Knowledge is power, so before you start your self-check, make sure you know what you’re looking for.
The A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma is a helpful mnemonic device for remembering what cancerous moles look like.
Asymmetrical. Is the shape of the mole irregular, with two parts that look quite different?
Border. Is the border of the mole jagged or irregular?
Color. Is the color uneven? The mole may also be an unusual color, like gray, white, red or even blue.
Diameter. Is the mole larger around than a pea?
Evolving. Has the appearance of the mole changed over the past few weeks or months?
To get a better idea of what these descriptions mean, you can also browse through a gallery of skin cancer images. When you know what to look for, you don’t have to worry unnecessarily.
Keep in touch with your doctor if you’re at risk
There currently isn’t enough evidence to recommend for or against routine screenings for skin cancer for those who don’t have a family history of melanoma and don’t have suspicious moles. If you do have that history or are concerned about a mole or spot, mention it to your doctor. They may refer you to a dermatologist who can help you diagnose any suspicious moles.
Our beautiful Utah mountains keep us nice and close to the sun, so as you’re out hiking, fishing or playing this summer, be sure to take precautions. Keep in mind that the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent if detected early. Know your risk level, learn to recognize cancerous moles and keep in touch with your doctor, and you’re well on your way to maintaining healthy skin.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission