5 steps to lower your risk of skin cancer

May 12, 2016 | by Iris Seitz, M.D.

Warm weather and sunny days are fast approaching, which means swimsuits, shorts and tank tops are right around the corner. Warm weather also means more exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. As you head outside for the summer, be smart.

Most skin cancers are a direct result of exposure to the UV rays in sunlight. Exposure depends on how strong the sun’s rays are and how well your skin is protected. You can still enjoy the outdoors; just plan ahead before you hit the swimming pool. Take these extra steps to protect your skin and lower your risk of skin cancer:

  • Reduce and limit your exposure to the hot sun. The Melanoma Research Foundation suggests using a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. This will help protect against sunburn, skin cancer and premature aging.
  • Give yourself 15 minutes to apply sunscreen before you head outside. Use one ounce of sunscreen (about a shot glass full), and make sure you do not forget to apply sunscreen to your lips, ears, hands, back of your neck and feet. A good rule of thumb is to re-apply sunscreen every two hours after you have been swimming or sweating. Once a day is not enough.
  • Don’t be fooled — just because the sun isn’t shining brightly doesn’t mean you can’t get burned. Apply sunscreen even on cloudy days. Also, avoid tanning beds, which have been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if it’s started before a person is 30.
  • Seek shade and cover your skin, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at its peak. If you will be outside for prolonged periods, use an umbrella or wear a long sleeve shirt, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat. Avoid baking and lying out in the sun without protecting your skin.
  • Pay attention to your body. Examine your skin from head to toe every month and look for abnormal moles or growths. Look for any change in a mole, blemish, birthmark or freckle that grows or looks different than any mole you currently have. You also want to look for any changes in surface texture or the way a mole feels.  

If melanoma is found early, it is almost always treatable, but if it is not detected, it can spread to other parts of the body. Follow the ABCDs of melanoma and watch for asymmetry of your moles, border irregularity, color and diameter.

The American Cancer Society says the risk of developing melanoma increases with age, but melanoma is not uncommon among people younger than 30 years of age. If you have a family history of melanoma, your risk is greater and you need to be screened and evaluated by a dermatologist or dermatologic oncologist. You don’t have to avoid the sun completely, but you do want to be smart and protect your skin for the future.

How do you protect yourself from the sun? Tell us in the below comments.

Learn more about cancer screenings at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more about dermatology services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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