Keep Skin Safe This Summer

AH, THE SWEET ARRIVAL OF MAY. The month that marks the unofficial start of summer is also aptly designated Skin Cancer Awareness Month. And the disease is on the rise. One in five Americans will develop it in their lifetime, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. Each year, there are more new cases than incidents of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined. The organization estimates more than 9,000 people will die of melanoma this year alone. When penciling barbecues and beach days into summer social calendars, bear in mind these latest tips for early detection and cutting edge breakthroughs in prevention.

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Committing to memory the early signs of skin cancer is the first step in being sun-savvy, said Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. Sometimes the signs are obvious, but more often than not, a deeper examination is required. The silver lining: The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 98 percent in the U.S. Dr. Sarnoff recommends learning the ABCDEs of melanoma—a technique recognized as the first line of protection when it comes to preventing and quickly identifying skin cancer.

The alphabetic strategy is: A is for asymmetry. If a line is drawn down the center of a mole and the two halves do not match, that is a warning sign for melanoma. B is for border. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be jagged or notched. C is for color. Most benign moles are all one color. A mole consisting of a variety of colors is another warning sign. D is for diameter. Melanomas are usually larger in diameter than the eraser on a pencil (think: 1/4 inch), though they can be smaller when first detected. Lastly, E is for evolution. Non-cancerous moles don’t change in appearance. Beware when a mole starts to change in any way.

The ABCDEs are a good start, but not the only warning signs, Dr. Sarno said. “If one spot looks significantly different from the surrounding moles—an ugly duckling—that could be a cause for concern,” she advised. Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologic surgeon on Long Island, also touted the benefits of the ABCDEs technique, but pointed out other early warning signs such as a sore that won’t heal, redness or swelling that spreads outside the border of a mole or spot and itchiness, tenderness or pain.

Nutrition also factors into prevention. Dr. Engelman suggested eating foods high in anti-oxidants (read: fruits, such as blueberries). This diet works to protect skin by keeping cells healthier and protecting against free radicals. Supplement these at-home checks and tips with yearly full body checks, Dr. Engelman said. “People will schedule a facial, a pimple extraction, a laser treatment or an injection right away but they will stall on a full body skin check.”

May is the start to summertime fun in the sun, but it’s important to note skin care prevention is a year-round goal. “I tell all my patients that sun protection is part of living a healthy lifestyle,” Sarnoff said. “The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher for every day, and an SPF of 30 or higher for extended outdoor activity.” Wearing long sleeves and pants whenever possible also helps lower the risk of developing skin cancer while still enjoying the great outdoors.