Published on June 17, 2021
Sun Safety Tips for a Melanoma-Free Summer
As the weather warms up and COVID-19 restrictions wind down, many of us will be spending more time in the great outdoors. In some parts of the country, Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are a major concern. In others, bear safety and backcountry skills are top of mind. No matter where you live and play, make sure skin cancer prevention is on your summer safety list.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. However, it is also one of the most preventable. While anyone can develop skin cancer, it is rarely hereditary and is most often caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds.
What is Melanoma Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer develops when skin cells are damaged and grow abnormally. It can occur anywhere on the body, even under fingernails and between toes. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the rarest of the three — accounting for just 1% of skin cancers annually, according to the American Cancer Society — but it is also the deadliest.
Melanoma occurs when melanocytes (the cells that give skin its pigment) are damaged. As with other types of skin cancer, the most preventable cause of melanoma is overexposure to UV radiation. Damage adds up over time, and skin cells become less able to repair themselves. Its propensity to spread rapidly to other parts of the body is what makes melanoma so deadly. The most aggressive forms can become life-threatening in as little as six weeks. Prevention and early detection are critical.
Tips for Skin Cancer Prevention
You may know that sunscreen is important, but do you apply (and frequently reapply) every time you go outside? To help you practice good sun safety this summer, we’re sharing skin cancer prevention tips and reminders from The Skin Cancer Foundation:
- Stay in the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Don’t get a sunburn.
- Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
- Cover up, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours, or after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun and use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.
Melanoma Early Detection
While prevention can lower the risk of developing melanoma, the disease is not entirely avoidable. When it does occur, finding it early increases the odds of a positive outcome.
According to Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data published by the National Cancer Institute, the relative five-year survival rate for melanoma is 92.7%, meaning that 93 out of 100 people are still alive five years after a melanoma diagnosis. However, as with most cancers, early detection is key. When melanoma is localized, the 5-year survival rate is 99%. If the disease has spread, the 5-year survival rate is just over 27%.
In addition to being safe in the sun, perform a self-exam once a month. Also, see a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening once a year. These two habits will increase your chances of early detection if melanoma does develop. To learn about the ABCDEs of skin cancer — asymmetry, border, color, diameter/dark, and evolving — and what signs to look for, read How to Perform a Self-Exam.
Get outside this summer and enjoy the great outdoors but make skin cancer prevention a priority while you do. Cover up, stay in the shade, and don’t forget your sunscreen!
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