With more than two million people diagnosed every year, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
It’s also one of the most treatable cancers when diagnosed early, and largely preventable by avoiding the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
“These rays can cause damage in as little as 15 minutes, but a few simple actions can go a long way toward safeguarding ourselves,” said Melissa Crosby, M.D., plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.
Staying out of the sun is the first and foremost recommendation. But when you can’t avoid being exposed, a combination of sunscreen and protective clothing is your best bet.
“Sunscreen alone is helpful, but loose fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection,” said Crosby. “Obviously, we can’t completely cover ourselves in fabric, so sunscreen is good for those areas of the skin that remain exposed.”
A hat helps protect your scalp, face, ears and even your neck. Choose canvas over straw, which can let rays through its holes. Sunglasses not only protect the sensitive skin around your eyes, but they can also help prevent cataracts.
Be sure to apply sunscreen 30 minutes ahead of sun exposure and reapply every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Water-resistant sunscreen still needs to be reapplied often. You can use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 15, but the higher the number, the better.
Don’t forget to check the expiration date on sunscreen. That bottle from your beach vacation three years ago has most likely lost its effectiveness. If there is no expiration date, three years is considered the standard shelf life for sunscreen, but higher temperatures can shorten the lifespan.
Check your skin at least once a month for warning signs of precancerous or cancerous moles or lesions, using these ABCDE guidelines:
Asymmetry: One half does not match the other half.
Border: The border or edges are ragged, blurred or irregular.
Color: The color varies throughout the spot or has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red.
Diameter: The diameter is larger than the eraser of a pencil.
Evolution: There is a change in size, shape or color.
“If you find anything questionable, even outside the typical warning signs, be sure to ask your physician,” added Crosby. “Skin cancer can present itself in a multitude of ways, so it is better to get checked early when it is more easily treated than to wait until it grows.”
To schedule an appointment with Melissa Crosby, M.D., or another physician in the area, call 281-274-7500, or visit the Facebook page at fb.com/methodistsugarland for the latest news, events and information.
Skin cancer seminar
Join Melissa Crosby, M.D., on at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 26, and learn how to prevent the most common cancer in the United States — skin cancer. Estimates indicate 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer during their lifetime. Registration is required and space is limited. For more information or to register, visit events.houstonmethodist.org/skin-sl or call 281-274-7500.