Virginia ENT: May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Every year, over five million cases of skin cancer are treated in the United States alone.

Skin cancer is more common than breast, lung, and colon cancer combined.  One in five Americans will develop it at some point.

Melanoma is a more sinister form of skin cancer.  It accounts for the vast majority of deaths from skin cancer.  The good news is that regular use of sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher can reduce the risk of developing melanoma by almost half. Sunscreen is key in preventing skin cancer and early detection is the key to minimizing the danger of skin cancer.  This is why Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month is so important.

What You Should Know About Melanoma and Skin Cancer

Melanoma is a particular variety of skin cancer which is typically more serious than other types. Factors that set it apart include its potential to spread and its tendency to run in families.  Unlike most forms of skin cancer, melanoma can occur even without overt sun exposure though.

For other types of skin cancer the sun is definitely the major risk factor.  According to the CDC, UV rays can start damaging your skin in as little as fifteen minutes, even on a cloudy day. Clothing is not enough protection.  A typical tee shirt has an SPF of about 10.   Additionally, getting a tan from a tanning bed is damaging to your skin and can be a factor in developing skin cancer.

People with a family history of skin cancer, or even a history of sunburns early in life, can be at greater risk. Knowing these risks is the first step in avoiding and/or minimizing them.

Why Awareness is Important

What you know may end up saving you!  The most important thing to remember when it comes to skin cancer is that we all have a risk factor in common: the sun. Although genetic risk factors can play a part, exposure to the sun is the biggest contributor to the development of skin cancer.

Sun exposure is a perennial issue.  However it is particularly dangerous in the spring and summer when more people are outside for longer periods of time with a lot less clothing on to aid in protection.  It cannot be emphasized enough that to minimize the risk of sun exposure at any point in time some form of high-quality sunscreen to block both UVA and UVB rays should be worn on a daily basis.  How simple is that!  Another benefit to minimizing exposure to the sun and wearing sunscreen on a daily basis is your skin will stay younger looking, longer.  How wonderful is that!

Tips for Prevention

To help prevent damage to your skin and possible skin cancer doctors recommend the following:

  • ALWAYS wear sunscreen.  If you have trouble remembering to apply it try keeping the sunscreen beside your toothpaste.
  • Avoid getting a sunburn as the risk of melanoma doubles due to frequent sunburns.
  • Stay away from tanning beds.
  •  Wear hats, sunglasses and appropriate clothing to help protect your skin.
  • Try to stay in the shade as much as possible while outdoors.
  • Perform a self-examination every few months for any signs of changes in your skin (e.g., new moles, changes in existing moles, or any other questionable changes to your skin).  To help remember this, plan to do it at least when you change wardrobes with the season.

Virginia ENT is able to diagnose and treat skin cancers and address potential lymph node spread for cancers that carry a risk of metastasis.

If you have questions about melanoma or skin cancer, make an appointment with Virginia ENT to consult with a physician.