In the cooler climate of New Hampshire, the dangers of sun exposure can be forgotten. April showers and occasional snowflakes don’t exactly serve as reminders to grab the sunscreen. Even on cold cloudy days, it’s important to guard your skin against cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with more cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year than all other cancers combined. The number of skin cancer cases has been increasing over the past few decades, according to the American Cancer Society.
Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most of this exposure comes from the sun, but some may come from man-made sources, such as indoor tanning beds and sun lamps. UV rays from the sun can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. They can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days.
The good news is that you can do a lot to protect yourself and your family from UV rays, as well as to catch skin cancer early so that it can be treated effectively.
During a skin exam a doctor or nurse checks the skin for moles, birthmarks, or other pigmented areas that look abnormal in color, size, shape or texture.
A simple way to recognize the signs of skin cancer is to go over the A-B-C-D-Es —
- “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
- “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
- “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
- “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
- “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. Not all skin cancers look the same. Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-E’s of melanoma.
Some individuals have an increased risk of developing skin cancer and should speak with their provider. How do you know if you’re at increased risk?
Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but they include —
- A lighter natural skin color
- Family history of skin cancer
- A history of sunburns, especially early in life
- A history of indoor tanning
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun
- Blue or green eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- Certain types and a large number of moles
To protect your skin and lower your skin cancer risk, follow these easy guidelines —
- Stay in the shade, especially during the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors in the continental United States.
- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, including a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, head, and neck.
- Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
- Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection. Apply a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin and get help for hard-to-reach places like your back.
- Avoid indoor tanning.