Your spouse has spotted a new mole on your back; you wonder how soon, or if, you really need to see the dermatologist. My mission is to motivate you to make your next appointment soon. I’m not the only one concerned about skin cancer awareness. In 2014, the U.S. Surgeon General determined skin cancer was a chief public health concern and released a “Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer,” with the purpose to increase awareness and create objectives to improve skin cancer prevention.
Skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States, with greater than three million cases identified this year. Annually, there are more new cases of skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Even more alarming is the fact that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Astoundingly, around 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are linked with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
A common misperception that I hear in the office: “I don’t burn, so I don’t need to wear sunscreen or have regular skin checks.” The fact is skin cancer affects all races, ages, and genders. There are a number of risk factors that make some people more susceptible, including environmental or genetic (being fair-skinned or having a family history of skin cancer), but most important are behavioral (excessive sun exposure, tanning, and sun burns) factors.
Another common misperception: “I don’t really go out in the sun, so I don’t need to wear sunscreen.” Do not fool yourself. In South Florida there is no way to avoid daily sun exposure. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends daily sunscreen use for everyone. You should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (protects against UVA and UVB exposure) with at least a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) 30 every day you are outside (rain or shine). Even on overcast days, most of the sun’s UV rays are penetrating through the clouds and can still damage our skin. It is important to apply the sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors. On days with prolonged outdoor exposure, increase to a water resistant SPF 50, and reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
While wearing adequate sunscreen is important, it is critical to understand that sunscreen (even SPF 100) does not block 100 percent of the sun’s rays. In addition to sunscreen, we need to protect ourselves with wide brim hats, sun protective clothing, and finding shaded areas whenever possible (especially between 10 AM and 2 PM). Perhaps most importantly, it is crucial to understand that the sun’s rays reflect off water and sand, thus extra caution must be taken while at the beach!
I am frequently asked, “Are sunscreens are safe?” We definitely know that excessive sun exposure causes skin cancer, but the assertions that sunscreens contain harmful ingredients has not been proven. Scientific studies continue to confirm the benefits of using sunscreen to decrease UV damage.
So what type of sunscreen should you use? There isn’t a quick answer and it depends on a few variables. Your dermatologist can recommend the product that is best for you. Aside from choosing a broad spectrum sunscreen (between SPF 30 – 50), the product you use is a matter of personal choice, and you want to choose one that you like and will use on a regular basis. There are specific sunscreens for babies (over six months of age) and those with sensitive skin that use the ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. More detailed sun protection information can be found on the AAD website: www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, absolutely avoid tanning booths at all costs. Studies have continually proven a link between indoor tanning and an increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have declared UV radiation, from the sun and tanning beds, as known carcinogens. The bottom line: tanning of any kind is detrimental to our skin.
The good news is most skin cancers are curable. By following the preventative strategies above to protect your skin, combined with regular skin cancer screenings, your dermatologist can aid in the prevention process, as well as, detect and treat skin cancers at their earliest stages.
Dr. Tremaine is the newest member of Skin Wellness Physicians and can be reached at 239-732-0044. Offices are located in the Naples Medical Center, the Marco Medical Center and at their main office in East Naples.