Melanoma Awareness Month offers tips on how to combat the cancer that is diagnosed in more Americans than all cancers combined (video)
As the temperatures rise and the days grow longer, many are heading outdoors and exposing more skin than during the winter months. This makes May a perfect time to remember to wear sunscreen and learn about the dangers of skin cancer during Melanoma Awareness Month.
According to the American Cancer Society, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. Pair that sobering statistic with the fact that many of us in the Eagle Valley live an active outdoor lifestyle and have higher UV exposure in the Rockies, and skin cancer awareness becomes something we shouldn’t take lightly. But there is some good news.
“If caught early, skin cancer is more curable,” said Karen Nern, MD, a board certified dermatologist and owner of Vail Dermatology. Being an advocate for your health and doing self-checks and going in each year for a full cancer screening is a good way to protect yourself from the disease. But also changing the way we think about the sun and how it affects our largest organ is key.
“I think there is a misconception about tanning. A lot of people think that tanning is good for you, so there are some people who still tan. There’s no such thing as a healthy tan,” Nern said. “We’re also a young, healthy, active population here and I think people don’t realize they can get skin cancer until it happens.”
Skin cancer is non discriminatory when it comes to age. “We’ve seen skin cancers in patients as young as 17 or 18 years old. I’ve diagnosed a melanoma on a 16-year-old girl’s ear before,” Nern said.
Another misconception is your hair, eye and natural skin color. “If you’re fair skinned and light eyed, you have a much higher risk for skin cancer. But even if people tan easily, they can still get skin cancer. I’ve done lots of ski cancer surgeries on people who have darker skin types,” Nern said.
If you are doing self-checks, follow the ABCDE rule. A is for asymmetry, where one half of the mole doesn’t match the other. B is for border irregularity. C represents color that is not uniform. D is for diameter – you don’t want anything greater than 6 mm, which is about the size of a pencil eraser. E means evolving in size, shape or color.
“I think the main thing is for people to just pay attention to something that’s not healing or is growing and changing,” Nern said.
Sunscreen and protective clothing are good preventative measures, but Dr. Nern said there are a few other things you can do. “There’s a pill called Heliocare that helps prevent sunburn and there’s new data showing that Vitamin B3 can help prevent skin cancer,” Nern said.
If you still want a little color, Dr. Nern will give you this. “Use as much self-tanning lotion as you want. Or get a spray tan. Just don’t sunbathe.”