It's May in the northern hemisphere, and that means longer days and more outside activities. It also means your dermatologist wants to check out your spots! May is Melanoma Awareness Month , when the American Academy of Dermatology reminds us to check out our skin and make an appointment for a skin cancer screening if it's been more than a year since our last exam.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer of all. More than 1 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, and the majority have basal cell or squamous cell cancers, two relatively uncomplicated types of cancers. Almost all people with these skin cancers can be cured with fairly minor surgery.
Unfortunately, the most aggressive type of skin cancer, melanoma, is diagnosed in almost 70,000 Americans each year, and the prognosis is much more serious. Melanoma, if caught very early, has an excellent 10 year survival rate. Once the disease has had a chance to spread to the lymph nodes, survival rates are much lower.
What can you do to protect yourself from melanoma and other skin cancers? Most importantly, you can shield your skin from the sun and its ultraviolet rays, by using sunscreen and protective clothing and hats. Sun protection is essential every day, not just days when you are at the beach or working outside. In fact, studies have shown that people who drive more than average have more skin lesions on the left side of the face, because that side receives more sunlight while driving.
There are lots of companies that make sun protective clothing, and mainstream retailers like L.L. Bean and Athleta have also gotten into the market. There are plenty of attractive options to cover up at the pool or in the garden.
Australia, which has the highest skin cancer rate in the world, has promoted an effective campaign called "Slip,Slop, Slap" which urges people to Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, and Slap on a hat. That slogan has become widely known and is considered highly successful in promoting sun safety Down Under.
Another easy way to help prevent skin cancer is to stay out of tanning booths. Ultraviolet radiation is now classified as a known carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The use of indoor tanning beds before the age of 35 increases one's risk for melanoma by an astonishing 75%. If you must have some color on your skin, use a sunless self-tanning cream, but remember that you still need to apply sunscreen when you are outdoors.
Melanoma is now the most common cancer in adults age 25-29 - it is the second most common cancer in young people age 15-29. With the growth in indoor tanning salons, many experts believe incidence of melanoma and other skin cancers will increase dramatically, unless measures are put in place to restrict indoor tanning.
Every May, the American Academy of Dermatology offers free skin cancer screenings to encourage early detection of skin cancer and melanoma. Ideally everyone should visit his or her dermatologist annually for a screening - remember that while having fair skin is a risk factor for melanoma, all races and skin types are vulnerable to this cancer.
There's no need to hide indoors on sunny days - just remember to be sun safe and protected.
For more information on melanoma, check out MayoClinic