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Tips for Preventing Skin Cancer

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Published on August 30, 2017

Dr. Mark Gimbel, from Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, shares tips on how you can prevent skin cancers like melanoma. He emphasizes the importance of early detection and protection from sun damage before it occurs. Dr. Gimbel suggests everyone wear loose-fitting clothing and always carrying a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or above for those unexpected sunny days. Watch the video to hear all of Dr. Gimbel's tips for keeping you and your family safe in the sun.


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Transcript | Tips for Preventing Skin Cancer

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That's how you’ll get care that's most appropriate for you.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of Banner Health, its medical staff or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

What do you recommend to family, friends and those of us watching today, Dr. Gimbel, particularly where there’s so much sunshine in Arizona to lower our risk of any of these skin cancers? 

Dr. Gimbel:

The key to preventing skin cancer is starting early.  I can’t tell you how many times I go to a pool or to a lake or even the ocean where I see children running around beet red, not having any sun protection, either hat, sunscreen, swimming shirts, and it starts early.  Sun damage that you gain is cumulative throughout your life, whatever you’re getting as a child when your skin doesn’t have the protection, that’s going to be the worst exposure.  If you have a child you want to be putting sunscreen on them regularly.  If they’re in the water a lot you want to make sure they have swimming hats and swimming shirts so you can really prevent the sun damage from starting early. 

Now, as I said, it is cumulative, you still want to protect your skin as you go along, and you still want to be wearing sunscreen, loose clothing as you’re doing it. 

Now, for the sunscreen we typically recommend using a SPF of 30 or above to give you adequate protection.  I think 30 is the least I would use for sunscreen.  However, just because you put it on once during the daytime you need to keep reapplying it approximately every two hours, and if you’re swimming or sweating it needs to be reapplied much more frequently. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Now, of course there are a lot of golfers, tennis players, people out hiking in Arizona.  What about the hours of the day?  I’ve heard it said sometimes that if you can, you want to avoid when the sun is strongest. 

Dr. Gimbel:

And you’re right.  It seems to be a little self-evident that the stronger the sun, the hotter it is, the more likely you’re going to get the stronger, the more direct radiation from the UV rays.  And as the sun—as the earth curves and the sun is rising those rays are not directly hitting the skin or at least not at the same intensity, and at the higher—the stronger points of the day, yes, you are actually getting more ultraviolet radiation to your skin.  You do want to avoid the high parts of the day. 

Andrew Schorr:

And wear a hat. 

Dr. Gimbel:

And definitely wear a hat. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Let’s talk about those UV rays.  People want to look tanned and beautiful and so there is the tanning industry, and some people have felt, well, those are safe UV rays.  What’s your feeling about that? 

Dr. Gimbel:

This is a very common misconception.  I will tell you right now there are no safe UV rays.  There are three types of UVs.  There’s UVA, UVB and UVC.  The ultraviolet C rays don’t usually make it through our ozone layer to the earth—to the surface of the earth, however UVA and the UVB rays do make it through and both of those can lead to, well, if we’re talking cosmetic, wrinkling and loss of collagen tone in the skin, but ultimately they can lead to the squamous and basal cell cancers as well as the melanomas.  There is no safe ultraviolet radiation. 

Going to these tanning booths actually provides high levels of ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation.  The fact that they state that there’s good radiation I think is false in the first sense.  And then when you are in the tanning booth you’re getting these high intensity—just like when the sun is up in the sky in the middle of the daytime—the high intensity radiation that’s really affecting the skin.  I think we need to be really careful about using the tanning booths because it’s actually been shown to increase risk of melanoma by seven-fold. 

Andrew Schorr:

All right.  People are warned about that and their use of—going out in activities outdoors of course and using the proper sunscreen and even clothing that you spoke about. 

What about their relationship with their doctor?  How often should people be checked if they suspect something, and then maybe one time they have something cut out or frozen, whatever the procedure may be, it would seem like they want to be in a regular dialogue with their doctor to see if anything else is changing or developing somewhere on their body. 

Dr. Gimbel:

I think it’s going to be a little bit different for everybody.  However, if you have a child who doesn’t have any skin lesions I don’t think you need to keep taking a child to a dermatologist every year or really worry so much about skin checks at that time.  Now, if they start to develop lesions or moles or freckles, then you want to have a higher frequency of follow-up, and that may be once a year. 

And as we get older and as we start to develop more skin markings, then we want to have them looked at probably at least once a year by our primary care physician.  As you start to get more and the skin starts to age and we see it more frequently and you are diagnosed with, say, a basal cell or squamous cell and some skin changes, then you want to establish a relationship with a dermatologist who can biopsy these lesions quite easily, who can follow you much more frequently. 

Andrew Schorr:

All right.  Just to sum up then, prevention and early detection, that’s the name of the game for any of this. 

Dr. Gimbel:

And I can’t stress enough how important that is, that as long as you can prevent it then you can avoid it from happening.  Now, we need sun.  Sun is important for us.  I’m not saying avoid the sun at all costs.  The sun makes us feel good, it’s healthy for us, but everything in moderation and protect yourself and prevent yourself from getting those burns. 

Andrew Schorr:

What do you recommend to family, friends and those of us watching today, Dr. Gimbel, particularly where there’s so much sunshine in Arizona to lower our risk of any of these skin cancers? 

Dr. Gimbel:

The key to preventing skin cancer is starting early.  I can’t tell you how many times I go to a pool or to a lake or even the ocean where I see children running around beet red, not having any sun protection, either hat, sunscreen, swimming shirts, and it starts early.  Sun damage that you gain is cumulative throughout your life, whatever you’re getting as a child when your skin doesn’t have the protection, that’s going to be the worst exposure.  If you have a child you want to be putting sunscreen on them regularly.  If they’re in the water a lot you want to make sure they have swimming hats and swimming shirts so you can really prevent the sun damage from starting early. 

Now, as I said, it is cumulative, you still want to protect your skin as you go along, and you still want to be wearing sunscreen, loose clothing as you’re doing it. 

Now, for the sunscreen we typically recommend using a SPF of 30 or above to give you adequate protection.  I think 30 is the least I would use for sunscreen.  However, just because you put it on once during the daytime you need to keep reapplying it approximately every two hours, and if you’re swimming or sweating it needs to be reapplied much more frequently. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Now, of course there are a lot of golfers, tennis players, people out hiking in Arizona.  What about the hours of the day?  I’ve heard it said sometimes that if you can, you want to avoid when the sun is strongest. 

Dr. Gimbel:

And you’re right.  It seems to be a little self-evident that the stronger the sun, the hotter it is, the more likely you’re going to get the stronger, the more direct radiation from the UV rays.  And as the sun—as the earth curves and the sun is rising those rays are not directly hitting the skin or at least not at the same intensity, and at the higher—the stronger points of the day, yes, you are actually getting more ultraviolet radiation to your skin.  You do want to avoid the high parts of the day. 

Andrew Schorr:

And wear a hat. 

Dr. Gimbel:

And definitely wear a hat. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Let’s talk about those UV rays.  People want to look tanned and beautiful and so there is the tanning industry, and some people have felt, well, those are safe UV rays.  What’s your feeling about that? 

Dr. Gimbel:

This is a very common misconception.  I will tell you right now there are no safe UV rays.  There are three types of UVs.  There’s UVA, UVB and UVC.  The ultraviolet C rays don’t usually make it through our ozone layer to the earth—to the surface of the earth, however UVA and the UVB rays do make it through and both of those can lead to, well, if we’re talking cosmetic, wrinkling and loss of collagen tone in the skin, but ultimately they can lead to the squamous and basal cell cancers as well as the melanomas.  There is no safe ultraviolet radiation. 

Going to these tanning booths actually provides high levels of ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation.  The fact that they state that there’s good radiation I think is false in the first sense.  And then when you are in the tanning booth you’re getting these high intensity—just like when the sun is up in the sky in the middle of the daytime—the high intensity radiation that’s really affecting the skin.  I think we need to be really careful about using the tanning booths because it’s actually been shown to increase risk of melanoma by seven-fold. 

Andrew Schorr:

All right.  People are warned about that and their use of—going out in activities outdoors of course and using the proper sunscreen and even clothing that you spoke about. 

What about their relationship with their doctor?  How often should people be checked if they suspect something, and then maybe one time they have something cut out or frozen, whatever the procedure may be, it would seem like they want to be in a regular dialogue with their doctor to see if anything else is changing or developing somewhere on their body. 

Dr. Gimbel:

I think it’s going to be a little bit different for everybody.  However, if you have a child who doesn’t have any skin lesions I don’t think you need to keep taking a child to a dermatologist every year or really worry so much about skin checks at that time.  Now, if they start to develop lesions or moles or freckles, then you want to have a higher frequency of follow-up, and that may be once a year. 

And as we get older and as we start to develop more skin markings, then we want to have them looked at probably at least once a year by our primary care physician.  As you start to get more and the skin starts to age and we see it more frequently and you are diagnosed with, say, a basal cell or squamous cell and some skin changes, then you want to establish a relationship with a dermatologist who can biopsy these lesions quite easily, who can follow you much more frequently. 

Andrew Schorr:

All right.  Just to sum up then, prevention and early detection, that’s the name of the game for any of this. 

Dr. Gimbel:

And I can’t stress enough how important that is, that as long as you can prevent it then you can avoid it from happening.  Now, we need sun.  Sun is important for us.  I’m not saying avoid the sun at all costs.  The sun makes us feel good, it’s healthy for us, but everything in moderation and protect yourself and prevent yourself from getting those burns. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Dr. Mark Gimbel, surgical oncologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, thank you so much for explaining this to us.  We appreciate it. 

Dr. Gimbel:

Thank you, Andrew. 

Andrew Schorr:

Andrew Schorr here for Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of Banner Health, its medical staff or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.