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Why Should You Protect Your Skin from the Sun this Summer?

During the summer months, chances are you will be spending more time outdoors. In order to protect your skin from sun damage, Fox Chase Cancer Center specialists advise you to become familiar with the early signs of skin cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the U.S. There are three main types of skin cancer. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are most common and develop on sun-exposed areas of the skin such as the face, ears, neck, lips and the backs of hands. They are much less likely than melanomas to spread to other parts of the body and become life- threatening. Melanoma is much more dangerous and can occur anywhere on the body, even in places not normally exposed to the sun. The ACS reports that melanoma causes most skin cancer deaths, accounting for more than 10,000 of the more than 13,650 skin cancer deaths each year.

“The great news is that both basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers and melanoma are often curable when found and treated early,” says Fox Chase surgical oncologist Jeffrey M. Farma, MD, FACS. “I highly encourage individuals to have their skin checked annually by a dermatologist or other physician. They should also examine their own skin every month just by using a mirror.”

Signs of Skin CancerMelanomas with characteristic asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, and large diameter. (courtesy of the NIH)Melanomas with characteristic asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, and large diameter. (courtesy of the NIH)

  • Any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth or spot, or a new growth (even if it has no color).
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding or a change in the way a bump or nodule looks.
  • The spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark.
  • A change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness or pain.

“Individuals should contact their physician immediately if they notice any of these warning signs on their skin,” explains Dr. Farma. “Everyone is subject to the potential adverse effects of sun overexposure. The key is to play it safe by avoiding prolonged exposure and practicing sun safety.”

Carolyn Heckman, PhD, an associate professor in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center advices people to be proactive when it comes to skin cancer prevention. She says, “As we move into spring and summer, many Americans will start spending more time outdoors. However, exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun and indoor tanning can increase the risk of skin cancer. Taking the time to get educated about the risks of UV exposure, along with taking steps to protect yourself from UV rays can make a big difference for your health while still allowing the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities."

Consider these easy tips:

  • Seek shade, particularly in midday hours — between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — when the sun’s rays are strongest. Use the shadow test to determine the strength of the sun’s rays: if your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are the strongest, so be sure to protect yourself.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day on all unprotected skin. Reapply every two hours and after swimming, toweling dry or sweating. Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days.
  • Cover up with protective, tightly woven clothing and a broad-brimmed hat. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. UV-blocking sunglasses are also essential for protecting the delicate skin around the eyes and the eyes themselves.
  • Avoid tanning beds, booths and sunlamps. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indoor tanning increases a person’s risk of getting skin cancer, including melanoma. Indoor and outdoor tanning are both dangerous.

For more information on skin cancer and the Fox Chase Cancer Center Melanoma Program, please call 1-888-FOX CHASE.