Skin Safety is a Year-Round Concern

By Lisa Seaberg on 10/17/2013

With the summer months behind us, you might think that you can stop worrying about sunscreen or big floppy hats. But summer isn't the only time you should be thinking about your skin! Colder temperatures don't necessarily mean that the sun's rays are weaker. It is important to be vigilant about skin health and safety year-round.

To help monitor how well you are taking care of your skin, Griffin Hospital is offering FREE skin cancer screenings on Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 4-7 p.m. at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital, 350 Seymour Ave., in Derby. To reserve your screening appointment, you must call 203.732.1280.

All Too Common

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States? Of skin cancer diagnoses, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common types and, fortunately, they are highly curable.

The third most common skin cancer, melanoma, is more dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61,646 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin in 2009 (the most recent statistics available), and 9,199 died from the disease in that year. About 65–90% of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is radiated from the sun all year long.

Risk Factors

Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but some general risk factors to consider are having:

  • A lighter natural skin color
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to the sun through work and play
  • A history of sunburns early in life
  • A history of indoor tanning
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blond or red hair
  • Certain types and a large number of moles

Signs & Symptoms

The best way to catch skin cancer early is to inspect your body regularly for any possible signs or symptoms. Contact your physician immediately if you notice:

  • Any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot, or a new growth (even if it has no color)
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or a change in the way a bump or nodule looks
  • The spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark 
  • Constant itchiness, tenderness, or pain

Protection and Prevention

The only way to prevent skin cancer is by protecting your skin from UV radiation.

As already mentioned, you must protect your skin all year long, not just during the summer or at the beach. Even on cloudy or chilly days, the sun's UV rays can be absorbed by your skin. Water, cement, sand and snow can also reflect UV rays. Indoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp to get tan) also exposes users to UV radiation.

The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daylight savings time are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors in the United States. While UV rays from sunlight are the greatest during the late spring and early summer, they are present every day in all weather conditions.

Follow these CDC recommendations to protect your skin from UV radiation:

  • Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing to protect exposed skin.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
  • Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVBUVA and UVB protection.
  • Avoid indoor tanning.

Protection is important, but it is just part of the prevention process. Perform regular skin exams and ask your doctor to perform them as well to increase the chance of finding skin cancer early.

Monthly self exams are great ways to note changes that should be reported to your doctor. Regular skin checks by a doctor are especially important for people who have already had skin cancer. View photos and read descriptions of what to look for when checking for skin cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

Your skin is the first thing people see when they look at you. Do your part to protect it and keep yourself healthy year-round.