Summer Sun Safety Month - July 2013
Skin Cancer Awareness:  Protect Your Skin

While you enjoy the outdoors this summer, protect yourself from skin cancer by seeking shade, wearing sunglasses, a hat, sun-protective clothing and use sunscreen.  It is easy to forget how important it is to protect your skin when you're having fun outdoors.  Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun's ultraviolet UV rays in as little as 15 minutes.  Yet it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure.  Even if it is cool and cloudy, you still need protection.  UV rays, not the termperature do the damage.  Clouds do not block UV rays, they filter them and sometimes only slightly.  Remember to plan ahead and keep sun protyection handy in your car, bag or child's backpack.  Tan?  There's no other way to say it, tanned skin is damaged skin.  Any change in the color of your skin after time outside, whether sunburn or suntan, indicates damage from UV rays.  Using a tanning bed causes damage to your skin just like the sun.

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the Unites States.  The two most common types called basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are highly curable if caught early, but treatment can be disfiguring.  Melanoma the third most common skin cancer can be deadly.

Risk Factors

Anyone can get skin cancer, but some things put you at higher risk, like having:
  • A history of sunburns
  • Exposure to the sun through work and play
  • A lighter natural skin color
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Naturally blond or red hair
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • A family history of melanoma

How to Protect Yourself

Take precautions against sun exposure every day of the year, especially during midday hours (10:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m.), when UV rays are strongest and do the most damage.  UV rays can reach you on cloudy days, and can reflect off surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow.  
  • Seek shade - especially during midday hours.
  • Cover up with 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.
  • Put on sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher.
  • Remember to reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.  
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps.  The UV rays from them can be stronger than UV rays from the sunner sun at noon.
(information from the Centers for Disease Control, CDC)

Early Detection of Skin Cancer

If all skin cancers were caught before they had a chance to spread, the cure rate for this disease could be 100 percent.  So it is important that you know the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and report them to your doctor right away. The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin. Look for the following symptoms in a mole, birthmark, scar or freckle:
  • A change in color or the appearance of two or more colors (colors can be black, brown, red, grey or white).
  • A change in shape or an irregularly shaped mole.
  • A change in the surface, including scales, nodules or lumps.
  • A change in size of a mole bigger than the size of a pencil eraser.
  • A change in the borders or irregular faded borders.
  • A persistent lump or swelling.
  • A new mole
  • A sore that does not heal or begins to bleed.
Keep in mind that not all cancers look alike.  Some start as small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lumps; some are firm red lumps.  Sometime the lumps bleed or develop a crust.  Skin cancer can also start as a flat, red spot that is rough dry or scaly.

Perform a Skin Self-Exam Monthly

Improve your chances of finding skin cancer promptly by performing a monthly skin self-examination.  The best time to do an exam is after a bath or shower.  Choose one day a month and always do the exam on that day.  Use a full length mirror and a hand mirror so that you can check all areas of your body.  Contact your doctor right away if you see any changes.  Begin by learning where your birthmarks, moles and blemishes are and what they usually look like.  Then check for anything new - a change in the size, texture or color of a mole, or a sore that does not heal.  Follow this exam routine to make sure you check your entire body.

1.  Hold your hands with your palms facing up.  Look at your palms, fingers, spaces between the fingers and forearms.  Turn your hands over and examine tha backs of your hands, fingers, spaces between the fingers, fingernails and forearms.

2.  Stand in front of a full-length mirror and hold your arms up, bending them at the elbows with your palms facing you.  Look at the backs of your forearms and elbows.

3.  Still looking into the mirror, observe the entire front of your body with your palms facing the mirror.  Carefully examine your face, neck, upper arms, chest, abdomen, pubic area, thighs and lower legs.

4. Continue standing in front of the mirror and lift your arms over your head with the palms facing each ther.  Turn so that your right side is facing the mirror; look at the entire side of your body. Turn and repeat the process with your left side.

5.  With your back to the mirror, look at your buttocks, the backs of your thighs and lower legs.

6.  Keep your back to the full-length mirror and use a hand mirror to examine the back of your neck and back.  Also examine the back of your arms.

7.  Stay in the same position and examine your scalp.  Pay close attention to the hairline and the ears.

8.  Sit down and prop one leg up on a chair.  Use the hand mirror to examine the inside of the propped-up leg, beginning at the groin and moving the mirror down the leg to your foot.  Repeat the procedure with the other leg and foot.

9.  Remain seated and cross one leg over the other.  Use the hand mirror to examine the top of your foot, your toes, toenails and spaces between the toes.  Be sure to look at the sole of your foot.  Repeat with the other foot.

10.  It is often helpful to ask a family member or a friend to help check difficult to see areas such as your back.

If you have a suspicious looking spot, we encourage you to make an appointment at the Free Clinic, by calling our number at 307-754-1142 in Powell, or 307-272-1753 in Cody, to make an appointment.  Most skin cancers can be treated with good results if caught early.  

By following these guidelines and limiting sun exposure, you can limit your skin damage and enjoy the skin you're in throughout your lifetime.  We wish you all a safe and healthy summer!