Employee & Community Health

The ABCs of preventing skin cancer

6/7/2018 by Brittany Strelow, PA-C

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We all know how good the sun feels on a warm, summer day. But do you know the ABCs for protecting your skin from sun damage that can lead to cancer?

Always wear sun protection

  • When outdoors, always wear sunblock or sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and UVA/UVB protection. Apply 30 minutes before going outside to all areas that will be exposed to the sun. Repeat the application every two to three hours, or more often if you're swimming or sweating. 
  • Wear sunscreen year round. 
  • Use lip balm that is at least SPF 30. 
  • Wear sunglasses with 100% UVA/UVB protection. 
  • Avoid direct sunlight during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear lightweight, long-sleeved t-shirts or cover ups. Some fabrics now have built-in sun protection. 
  • Start a collection of sun hats for your various activities — and wear them.

Be aware and informed. 

  • One bad sunburn can double your chances of skin cancer.
  • Sunburn can come from the sun, as well as alternatives such as tanning beds, which can increase the risk of skin cancer. Using tanning beds before the age of 35 may increase the risk of melanoma by 75%. 
  • Melanoma is the leading cause of all skin cancer-related deaths, and continues to rise, especially among women. It develops in cells called melanocytes that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body. 
  • Factors that can increase your chances of skin cancer include: Having fair skin, blue eyes, red or blonde hair, freckles or many moles; a family history of melanoma; or a weakened immune system. 

Check your skin for possible cancers. Start with all areas exposed to the sun including your scalp, face, lips, neck, chest, arms, hands and legs. But also examine areas you may not think of such as palms, beneath fingernails and toenails, and your genital area. When checking, look for: 

  • Change in an existing mole
  • New skin growth
  • Moles that are uneven or asymmetrical in shape
  • Growths with borders or variations in color
  • Moles with a diameter greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)
  • Moles or growths that continue to change

If you're concerned about a mole, growth, scaly or red patches on your skin, have them checked by your care team. Enjoy the sun, but know your ABCs!

Brittany Strelow, PA-C, is a physician assistant in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM). She has a masters in science and a special interest in hematology/oncology, as well as preventive medicine. For more than 12 years, she's been an avid volunteer for the American Cancer Society.