Skin Deep: What You Need to Know About Melanoma Prevention

In Features, Magazineby RI Magazine

Skin cancer can be deadly. Preventing it is simple. Here’s the skinny on protecting yourself and your family.

BY MICHAEL SCHUTZ, MD

May is Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month. With summer coming, we all want to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather; I live by the shore and love to go to the beach and jump the waves. But as good as the sun feels on your skin, it has its dangers.

The outer layer of the skin, or epidermis, has three types of cells—squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. These cells can be damaged by ultraviolet light and the more exposure you get and the younger you are, the greater the risk. Each type of cell can transform into cancer with basal cell and squamous cell cancers being the most common and least aggressive. Melanoma, on the other hand, can be a very aggressive cancer. But like every cancer, the most important factor is early detection.

Risk factors include:
– Fair complexion with freckles or that burns easily
– Blue or Green or other light colored eyes
– Red hair
– Prior melanoma or moles

Screening for skin cancer includes looking for any abnormal areas or seeing changes in your skin. A dermatologist or general practitioner can help you with this. Abnormal areas or areas that change may need to be biopsied for a diagnosis.

Remember: it’s easier to prevent skin cancer than it is to treat it. Here are a few simple things you can do:

– Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and put on exposed areas and reapply with swimming or sweating.
– Whenever possible, stick to shade under an umbrella, and stay covered up most of the time with clothing and hats.
– Be aware that cloudy days don’t protect you from UV rays.
– The most important hours for protection are from 10 am to 4 pm.
– Protect your eyes with UV blocking glasses. (There needs to be a special UV blocking treatment applied to the lenses.)

Get your kids while they’re young. Teaching children to avoid prolonged exposure and use sunscreen are the best prevention methods. If they start young, they will pick up those good habits.

Some of my favorite memories as a child are going to the beach with my parents. One of my mom’s rules was I had to wear a t-shirt. As a kid, I felt a little self-conscious wearing that shirt. Today, I thank my mom for being so far ahead of the curve.

Dr. Michael Schutz is a urologist practicing at the Jersey Urology Group in Somers Point, NJ.

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