When I was a child, the proximity of the Jersey Shore to my hometown made the beach a frequent destination. In the morning, my family would pile into the old Chevy brimming with excitement. At night, we would drag ourselves home – sticky, sandy, and sunburned.
Back then, before sunscreen was commonly used, little thought was given to skin cancer prevention. Now we know that a history of excessive sun exposure, including sunburns, is responsible for the majority of skin cancers.
Each year, more than 2 million people are treated for basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer. While these forms of skin cancer are much more common than melanoma, they are rarely lethal. By contrast, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be roughly 76,000 melanoma cases and about 9,700 deaths from the disease in the U.S. in 2014. New treatments have improved survival odds for melanoma patients, but the best way to reduce skin cancer damage is through prevention and early detection.
The Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) offers tips for preventing skin cancer:
- Wear sunscreen when going outside. It’s important to make sunscreen a daily habit. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can still damage skin even in the winter and on cloudy days.
- If you have fair skin, red or blond hair and light eyes, a history of sunburn or UV exposure, or a family history of melanoma, you could be at higher risk for skin cancer. Talk to your health care provider about the benefits of regular skin examinations.
- Indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma by up to 75 percent. Melanoma is the number one new cancer diagnosed in adults 25 to 29, and scientists attribute this trend to the use of tanning beds, particularly by young women. Protect yourself by avoiding tanning beds.
The MRA also advises looking for changes in your skin following the ABCDEs. Talk with your doctor if you have moles or growths that are:
- Have an irregular Border
- Exhibit changes in Color
- Have a Diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser
- Have Evolved in size or thickness
Christina McEvoy was diagnosed with stage I melanoma in 2007 when a mole was removed from her thigh. Two years later, she was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma when cancer was found in her lymph nodes and lungs. That’s when Christina and her husband set to work looking for the best treatment option for her. You can read Christina’s story in the summer issue of Cancer Today.
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