I always get excited when Michigan’s weather starts warming up and I can be outside more often. Of course, as a melanoma survivor, I’m cautious about being in the sun. It’s a great time to focus on sun safety during Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Keep reading for 6 skin cancer prevention tips.
Know your skin
A few weeks ago, I noticed a mole appeared a little larger and different than I recalled. After looking at it for a week or so, I decided to listen to my instinct and made an appointment with my dermatologist. We ended up removing it via a biopsy and I’m so glad we did – the pathology came back precancerous but thankfully the margins were benign.
As a someone with reddish hair, fair skin, and lots of moles, I started regularly seeing a dermatologist in my early 20s. I even had full body photographs taken so my doctor can do comparisons each visit. So I’ve had several biopsies over the years, with many moles coming back atypical. Being proactive has most likely prevented another skin cancer diagnosis.
One piece of advice that I’ll share on repeat: trust your instinct, whether related to your health or anything else. As a three-time cancer survivor, I know my body very well and pay attention to changes. If anything seems too off or doesn’t resolve after a short time or efforts by me, I don’t hesitate to contact my doctors. In fact, I noticed changes in the mole that ended up being melanoma, and pushed my doctor to remove it. He hesitated so much that I left him for another doctor who listens to any concerns.
Anyone can get skin cancer
While skin cancer is more common in some skin types, we all have skin so it makes sense that anyone can get skin cancer. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. The most common risk factors include:
Exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet radiation from tanning booths
Frequent blistering sunburns, especially early in life
Having 50 or more moles
A personal history of skin cancer
Possible genetic factors (such as family history or mutations in certain genes)
History of radiation therapy
Check out these 6 skin prevention tips
Pay attention to your skin.
Get familiar with your body so you know it best. Do self-skin checks at least monthly, including areas that may not see the sun. Don’t forget the back of your body too. Get a professional skin check annually from a doctor.
Know your family health history.
If you have a family health history of skin cancer or any disease, make sure your doctor is aware. It helps create a care plan specific to you. For instance, my sisters get skin checks more frequently due to my grandfather and me having melanoma. This led to an early melanoma diagnosis for my younger sister (thankfully).
Remember that any change to your skin, including a tan, is damage to the DNA of your skin. There is no such thing as a ‘safe base tan.’ In fact, tanning damages skin cells and speeds up visible signs of aging. Even worse, tanning can lead to skin cancer. Tanning beds are just as dangerous as tanning in the sun. Studies find that just one indoor tanning session increased the risk of developing melanoma before age 35 by 75%!
Using sunscreen is important to preventing skin cancer. Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. A minimum of SPF 15 is recommended, however, go higher if you’ll be outside for a long period. And make sure to reapply every two hours if you’re outside for a long time, swimming or sweating (I carry a sunscreen stick in my cycling jersey pocket when I’m on long rides so I can easily reapply). Don’t forget important areas like the backs of your hands and tops of your feet. One reason that I started wearing cycling gloves is to protect my hands from the sun. And don’t forget to wear lip balm with SPF. A lot of makeup now has SPF, which is great.
There are so many clothing options that protect from the sun. I own several SPF/sun protection shirts and such for when I’m active outdoors. I wear sun sleeves and gloves when cycling, and big hats when gardening. And don’t forget to protect your eyes with sunglasses.
Search for shade.
The sun’s rays are strongest between 10am – 4pm. I like to exercise/be active early morning or evening, mostly to avoid the strongest rays (and usually heat). If you need to be outdoors during this time, try to find shade under a tree, umbrella, shelter or elsewhere.
Remember that being proactive can help prevent or catch skin cancer early. It could save your life!
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