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Skin cancer risks and ways to protect yourself this summer

With summer right around the corner, there isn’t a better time than now to discuss skin damage and skin cancer.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, making it a great time before warm summer days to brush up on everything you need to know about skin cancer risks and what you can do to protect yourself when venturing outdoors over the next couple of months. From understanding what to look for, learning how to protect yourself, finding out your skin cancer risks, and getting the resources and help you need, this month serves as the perfect opportunity to educate ourselves and prevent future damage to your skin and your health.

Ultraviolet radiation causes premature aging and cancer. Something you may already know. But what you may not know is that ultraviolet rays can penetrate clouds, glass, and bounce off snow, water, and even sand. Most of us are aware that UV damage happens when you sit out in the sun too long without protection. But it can also accumulate over time, from years of little or prolonged sun exposure.

Ultraviolet radiation from sun rays is not the only thing responsible for skin damage and cancer, either. Risk factors include tanning beds, photosensitivity, and skin type. In fact, tanning beds increase your risk of developing skin cancer by 75 percent with just one tanning session.

Photosensitivity occurs while taking over-the-counter medications, using skin-care products, or for people who may have a medical condition or genetic disorder that causes their skin to break out in a burn or rash after exposure to UV light. These instances elevate your risk for damage, thus making photosensitivity increase your risk for skin cancer.

Skin type plays a major role in skin damage and cancer risks as well. Not all skin types are the same, and research shows fair tones are more at risk for sunburn, skin damage, and skin cancer.

So what can you do to help minimize your risk?

For starters, seek shade. Avoid sitting out in the sun too long and getting burnt. Cover up with clothing, hats, and sunscreen.

Also, examine your skin regularly from head-to-toe at least once a month and make a note of any changes that may require further attention from your primary care provider or a dermatologist.

Early detection is key in any fight against cancer, especially when it comes to your skin.

There is good news, though, as 99 percent of skin cancer cases are curable if they are diagnosed early enough and the patient undergoes treatment. Skin cancer is easy to detect in most patients because it grows on the outside of the skin instead of the inside of the body. Learning what to look for can save your life if you educate yourself correctly.

When trying to spot melanoma, pay attention to asymmetry, borders, color, diameter, and if your mole is changing in size, shape, or color. Also, watch for new, expanding, or changing growths, new spots or bumps on your skin, any rough scaly red patches which may crust over or bleed, any wart-like growths, or a sore that bleeds and doesn’t heal after a few weeks. All of these skin conditions should prompt a visit to your dermatologist or primary care physician. A good rule of thumb when trying to spot possible skin cancer is to not hesitate to call your primary care physician or dermatologist if anything looks abnormal. If you are at high risk for skin cancer, you may want to consider a once-a-year full-body professional exam.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they are 70. The most common cancer in the United States doesn’t stand a chance if we take precautions, lower our risks, and regularly conduct self-exams to ensure there is nothing to worry about.

This summer, seek shade, cover up, and try not to sit in the sun too long and let your skin burn. Together, we can lower our risks, reduce damage, and ensure our future is skin cancer-free.