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Practice safe sun: Skin cancer prevention & warning signs

Do you have a love-hate relationship with the sun? If you’re like most people on the planet, you adore warmer weather, but fear the consequences of too much time under the sun’s rays. From heat stroke to skin...

Sun safety tips

Do you have a love-hate relationship with the sun? If you’re like most people on the planet, you adore warmer weather, but fear the consequences of too much time under the sun’s rays. From heat stroke to skin cancer, the implications to your health can definitely be serious.

Particularly serious is the risk of melanoma. Did you know that 1 in 5 North Americans will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer over the course of their life? The good news is that while skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, melanoma (the most deadly type) only accounts for 1% of diagnoses.

The numbers may be on our side, but we still need to do what we can to prevent a serious diagnosis. Knowing what signs to look out for and understanding who is at high risk are also key.

Prevention: 6 simple steps to take

You know what they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. If you want to protect your skin to avoid a scary diagnosis, make sure these six steps are a part of your regular routine during the summer months.

1. Avoid time in the sun during peak hours. If you need to be outdoors, stick to the shade as much as you can.

2. Protect your skin with UV-resistant clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and an SPF 30 sunscreen. (Find out why high-SPF sunscreens are unnecessary and possibly a waste of your money.)

3. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before heading outdoors, and reapply every two hours, or after going for a swim or sweating profusely.

4. Keep newborns out of direct sunlight, and begin using sunscreen on your baby from six months onwards. No matter what your child’s age, make sure their skin is protected. Did you know that even one bad burn during our early years doubles our chances of receiving a melanoma diagnosis?

5. Make it a habit of checking your skin regularly, and see your doctor if you note any concerning changes (see warning signs below). Also, be sure your doctor is examining your skin yearly.

6. Say no to tans! Avoid tanning oils, tanning beds, or prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Opt for a spray tan if you feel you can’t live without a bit of a bronzy glow.

Warning signs: Know your ABCDEs

The simplest way to watch out for signs of skin cancer is to keep an eye on your moles. If you notice any of the following changes, make an appointment with your doctor right away.

A – Asymmetry: Any moles whose sides don’t match up should be cause for concern.

B – Border: An uneven border on your mole is definitely something to look out for. Benign moles have smooth borders; malignant moles do not.

C – Color: If your mole is a variety of shades of brown (including black), or is red, white or blue, see your doctor immediately.

D – Diameter: If a mole is larger in diameter than the eraser on the end of your pencil (i.e., 6mm or more), this could be a sign that something is wrong.

E – Evolving: Any sort of change to an existing mole (e.g., size, shape, feel, color, etc.) is a definite red flag.

In addition to the ABCDEs, be on the lookout for something called the “ugly duckling”. This is a mole that may appear benign, but when viewed in a group of moles, it is clearly unlike the others. This type of outlier mole is also worth getting checked out.

And don’t forget that cuts or wounds that itch, continue to bleed beyond what is normal, or just won’t heal properly are also warnings that something is wrong.

Who’s at high risk?

While everybody should be proactively taking steps to prevent a skin cancer diagnosis, some of us are at higher risk than others. If you see yourself in the list below, take extra care to protect your skin when the sun is out.

1. Those with fair skin, light eyes, and red or blonde hair.

2. Individuals with more than 50 moles.

3. Anyone with a history of sunburns or prolonged sun exposure.

4. Individuals with a family (or personal) history of skin cancer.

5. Even though people with fair or white skin are 20 times more likely to develop skin cancer, those with darker skin tones are at higher risk of dying from it due to the common misconception that they don’t need sunscreen.

Sure, this all sounds a bit scary. But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re smart about protecting your skin during the summer months, the likelihood is that you’ll be just fine. Take the necessary steps to prevent a diagnosis, know the warning signs, and be extra cautious if you’re at high risk.

Enjoy the summer sun, and stay safe out there!  

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