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Health column: Shedding light on melanoma

in Health/News

It’s a common sight every spring – fair-skinned Americans stripping down to their shorts or swimsuits and soaking up the rays. It’s all good fun, until someone gets skin cancer.

The role of ultraviolet radiation as a cause of skin cancer is well documented as basal and squamous cell skin cancers have been linked to long-term cumulative sun exposure – the kind farmers and sailors are exposed to.

Heidi Heise

For melanoma, the most serious of skin cancers, medical professionals believe that the risk comes rather from intense, intermittent exposure to the sun’s rays, like a vacation on the beach and the painful sunburn that might come with it.

Here are some tips to prevent skin cancer:

  • If you have a history of one or more severe, blistering sunburns as a child or teenager, it can increase your risk of melanoma as an adult.
  • Avoid midday sun when its rays are the strongest. Because the sun’s rays are strongest during this period, try to schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even when the sky is cloudy. You absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation year-round, and clouds offer little protection from damaging rays.
  • Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Use a generous amount of sunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips, the tips of your ears, and the backs of your hands and neck. Apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it frequently while you’re exposed to the sun. Be sure to reapply it after swimming or exercising.
  • Wear protective clothing. Sunscreens don’t provide complete protection from UV rays, so wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than a baseball cap or visor does. Don’t forget sunglasses. Look for those that block both types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds emit UV radiation, which can increase the risk of skin cancer.
  • Become familiar with your skin, so you’ll notice changes. Examine your skin so that you become familiar with what your skin normally looks like. This way, you may be more likely to notice any skin changes. With the help of mirrors, check your face, neck, ears and scalp. Examine your chest and trunk, and the tops and undersides of your arms and hands. Examine both the front and back of your legs, and your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. If you notice anything unusual, point it out to your healthcare provider at your next appointment.

Self-exams are an effective way of recognizing the warning signs of skin cancer. The “ABCDE” Skin Test is a good habit to learn:

  • A – Asymmetry – One half of the mole/skin spot is unlike the other half.
  • B – Border – An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
  • C – Color – An uneven colored mole/spot with shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes red, white or blue.
  • D – Diameter – The mole/spot is larger than 6mm in diameter, about the size of pea.
  • E – Evolving – One that changes size, shape, color, or looks different than the rest.

Everyone is at risk of skin cancer – regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.

Remember to protect yourself daily from UV rays with sunscreen and clothing and conduct regular ‘ABCDE’ skin self-exams.

If you spot anything irregular – make an appointment with a dermatologist.

Heidi Heise, APNP, is a family medicine nurse practitioner at Ascension Medical Group at Westwood, Wausau. For more information, call 715-355-9775.

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