Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the United States. Summer is in full swing, which means people are eagerly enjoying the hot Texas heat with outdoor activities. Medical expert Alexander R. Miller, MD, surgical oncologist at Methodist Hospital, reminds everyone that too much sun exposure can lead to painful and dangerous consequences, such as sunburn and heat strokes, and can often lead to skin cancer. In fact, most cancers of the skin are caused by repeated and unprotected skin exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight.
The sun emits two types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation – Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB). UV rays are strongest during the summertime. The best approach for protecting your skin involves multiple measures, including avoiding prolonged, continuous and direct sun exposure, seeking shade whenever possible, wide-brimmed hats or umbrellas, wearing clothes that shield your skin and using sunglasses and sunscreen.
The FDA recommends using sunscreen labeled “Broad Spectrum,” which means it includes ingredients that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and SPF 50 or higher. Sunscreen wears off, so it should be reapplied every two hours to prevent soaking up too many rays, especially if you are sweating profusely or spending time in the water. It’s important to know that sunscreen isn’t appropriate for children under six months of age, and all children under one year old should be kept out of direct sunlight.
Dr. Miller encourages everyone to regularly examine their skin for irregular spots or moles and schedule skin exams as part of routine health check-ups. Finding skin cancer early, when it’s small and has not spread, makes it much easier to treat. Dr. Miller says using the “ABCDE rule” is a great way to look for common signs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
- A – Asymmetry: one part of the mole doesn’t match the other
- B – Border: edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred
- C – Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
- D – Diameter: The spot is larger than ¼ inch across—about the size of a pencil eraser—although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
- E – Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
It is recommended to see a dermatologist if you or your family has a history of skin cancer or if you have had excessive sun exposure.