Employee & Community Health

Pale is the new color for summer

5/15/2017 by Brittany Strelow, PA-C

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Being Minnesotans, we are all too familiar with the lack of sunshine in the winter months. So when spring arrives, we head outdoors to soak up the sun. Sun has its benefits such as Vitamin D, but it also comes with its own risks. 

Getting one bad sunburn can double your chances of skin cancer. Not only do we need to think of sunlight outside, but also 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 be on the 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. 

Do you know how to reduce your risk of skin cancer? The first step is to protect yourself from the sun: 

  • When outdoors, always wear sunblock or sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and UVA/UVB protection. 
  • Apply sunscreen to all areas that will be exposed to the sun 30 minutes before going outside. 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. 

The second step is to check all areas of skin exposure, including scalp, face, lips, neck, chest, arms, hands and legs. Skin cancers can also appear in areas you may not think of, or that typically aren't exposed to the sun, 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. 

Have fun, support melanoma research, education

On May 19, the Stay Out of the Sun Foundation is sponsoring the Stay Out of the Sun Run. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at Lourdes High School. Mayo Clinic Dermatology will be offering free skin-cancer screenings. For more information please visit the event website. The foundation promotes awareness of the dangers of sun exposure and supports melanoma research and education. 

Brittany Strelow, PA-C, is a physician assistant in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM). She completed her masters in science at Pace University in New York City and has a special interest in hematology/oncology, as well as preventive medicine. She has been an avid volunteer for the American Cancer Society for more than 13 years.