Skin Cancer Awareness Month and Melanoma Monday May 6, 2013
Every year, May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. The first Monday in May is Melanoma Monday. It’s a good month for talking about and focusing on skin cancer, because it’s often the first month we start to really think about the weather change and being outdoors, and of course Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff of summer for most of us.
Despite the public’s increasing awareness of the importance of preventing sunburn, using sunscreen, sunglasses, protective clothing, and the dangers of skin cancer, melanoma rates in kids and teens are still on the rise. We need to do better. Research, education, and prevention are all important factors in the fight. I will be wearing orange, the official color of Melanoma Monday, to help trigger conversations with my patients on this important day. I will direct them to websites with great educational resources like AAD.org and skincancer.org, the websites of the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Let’s focus on two goals this month: first, getting annual skin cancer screening exams from a board-certified dermatologist. And second, getting a better understanding of sunscreen labels and how sunscreen really works.
Annual skin checks (no machine “scan”, just a trained physician who specializes in skin disease looking you over scalp to toes) are key to early detection, treatment, and cure of all three types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and melanomas can all be caught early and cured in most cases. I’ll talk more about each of these in future posts.
2013 marks the year the new sunscreen labeling rules have been finalized by the FDA after a long wait. Their aim is to simplify and clarify. More about this in a future post, too, but the basic gist is that we should look for sunscreens that say “broad-spectrum” on the label and have an SPF of at least 30 for daily use, and up to 50 or higher for time that will be spent in direct sun like playing sports or going to the beach. Apply the first coat 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every 2 hours. Apply two layers, because we all tend to underapply, and are not getting the label’s level of protection automatically.
Never seek sun for the purpose of getting “color”. Use self-tanning lotions and always wear sunscreen instead. Avoid extended mid-day unprotected sun exposure. Wear hats and sunglasses. And see your dermatologist for the once-over, once a year.