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How to Prevent Skin Cancer

Most of us have moles and skin spots here and there.  But how can you tell when a spot is something you should worry about?  May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a great opportunity to learn cancer prevention techniques before the summer months officially arrive.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
May 29, 2014
Episode #155

Page 2 of 2

How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

If there’s a skin spot that appears suspicious, your doctor may take a sample (or biopsy) of the lesion.  Once the sample is taken, it is sent to the pathologist who examines the sample under a microscope and looks for signs of cancer.  A diagnosis is then made. 

Those with skin cancer, especially melanoma, are often referred to a dermatologist (a skin specialist) who will then administer the proper treatment.  Sometimes if the biopsy didn’t get the entire skin spot, the doctor or dermatologist will need to go back and remove more from the skin to get what we call “clear margins.”

How to Prevent Skin Cancer

Those long days of basking in the sun while slathered in nothing but baby oil are long gone. 

We now know that the sun’s rays (and the tanning salon rays) are very harmful for our skin.  Sun-kissed skin is no longer the sought-after fad it once was. Not only do the sun’s rays cause wrinkles and premature aging, they can cause your skin cells to go out of whack and become cancerous. The best thing to do is to protect yourself from the get-go - that means starting in childhood. 

Here are 5 things you can do to prevent skin cancer:

  • SPF 30 or higher

  • With stated “UVA and UVB” protection on the bottle

  • With the ingredients “titanium” and/or “zinc oxide”

  • Avoid the sun:  Avoid sun exposure as much as possible.  If you will be spending any time outdoors, stay in the shade whenever possible. Avoid the sun’s peak hours, from 10am to 4pm, when the rays are strongest.

  • Cover up:  Wear a hat to protect your head; wear long sleeves and pants as much as possible.

  • Apply sun protection:  Apply a good sunblock every single day you are outside – this means even if you are sitting in a car and on cloudy days.  Don't kid yourself: You are exposed to the sun’s rays even when you're in the shade, so don't skimp on the sun protection and be sure to reapply every 2 hours.  Choose a sunblock with the following properties:

  • Do monthly skin checks:  Invest in a full-length mirror and examine your skin once a month, keeping the ABCDE’s of melanoma in mind.  If there’s anything suspicious, don’t neglect to ask your doctor.

  • Avoid the tanning salon:  There was a time when we thought perhaps the tanning booth’s rays weren’t as harmful as the sun. Now we know better. The salon rays are just as harmful as the sun, if not worse.

Don't get me wrong, I’m all for having some summertime fun, but that fun doesn’t necessarily have to be in the sun.  And if it does, protect yourself and your loved ones by following these easy tips to stay healthy. 

Share your ideas and learn more quick and dirty tips with us on the House Call Doctor’s Facebook and Twitter pages!  You can even find me on Pinterest!

Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

Melanoma and doctor examining patient images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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