Summer is quickly approaching. Soon enough, you’ll be grilling, camping, and spending hours at the beach shaking the sand out of your hair. Unfortunately, your skin doesn’t love the sun as much as you do. We all need a little vitamin D to keep our bones strong. But too much unprotected exposure to our favorite star can cause all sorts of problems — sunspots, wrinkles, freckles, and, yes, even cancer.
The good news is that melanoma, the most common cancer in America, can usually be prevented with early detection. If you can’t stop thinking about that mysterious mole — or even if you don’t have a reason to fear funky skin spots — you should consider getting regular skin screenings by a dermatologist. And it’s the perfect time of year to schedule one. Here’s why.
Be smart going into summer
There’s no wrong time of year to visit the derm. But don’t wait until you’re rubbing aloe on a sunburn to start panicking about sun damage; it’s wise to get a skin screening done before you commence basking in the sun. That way, anything suspicious can be flagged and you can hit the beach with some peace of mind.
Checks are quick, easy and painless
Unlike many preventative checks, skin screenings are noninvasive and require zero blood work. The doctor simply looks you over, searching for spots that could be problematic. In some cases, the exam takes under 10 minutes. Skin cancer survivor Rachel Cruz said the skin screening that caught her early-stage melanoma only took a few minutes — and even then, she nearly skipped it. “I’m glad I ended up keeping that appointment,” she said. “It saved my life.”
Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body
Melanoma is not just skin cancer. It can develop anywhere on the body, including the eyes, scalp, nails, feet, and mouth. Checking yourself or your partner at home is a good idea, but it can only be so effective. And, while women are nine times more likely than men to notice a melanoma on another person, they still can’t check their own backs. The safer bet is to go see a dermatologist who knows exactly where to look and what to look for.
Early detection is everything
Unlike most cancers, skin cancer is easily prevented when caught early. The early-detection cure rates for Actinic Keratoses and Basal Cell Carcinoma, two of the most common types of skin cancer, is around 95%
Also, compared to other cancers, melanoma is relatively common in younger people. According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, it’s the leading cause of cancer deaths in women ages 25-30 and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women ages 30-35. In ages 15-29, melanoma is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer. The incidence of developing melanoma is increasing faster for people under 30 than for any other demographic group. So it’s important that people of all ages get checked out.
Everyone is susceptible
The most recent guidelines from the Melanoma Management Journal suggest that males with blonde or red hair and lots of freckles have the highest risk of skin cancer. People with a history of skin damage, heavy tanning, or blistering, as well as those with numerous birthmarks, are also considered high-risk. Race also plays a role in risk — the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 1 in 40 for Caucasians, 1 in 200 for Hispanics, and 1 in 1,000 for African Americans. That being said, everyone is susceptible.
Even with screenings, always protect yourself
May is the kick-off month for summertime fun, but it’s important to remember that preventive skin care is a year-round goal. “I tell all my patients that sun protection is part of living a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Deborah Sarnoff, President of the Skin Cancer Foundation. “The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher for every-day wear, and an SPF of 30 or higher for extended outdoor activity.” Wearing long sleeves and pants whenever possible also helps lower your risk of developing skin cancer while still enjoying the great outdoors.