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Summer sun and skin protection

Aids Health Foundation

Submitted by AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia

It’s the time of the year when the sun is beaming and we are all enjoying the outdoors. Before you go outside, take a moment to protect your skin with sunscreen. Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and lip balm with SPF 15 or higher. Protecting your skin is very important. Everyone is at risk for skin cancer.

Although skin cancer is more common among Caucasians, it can affect people of any race. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that African Americans are less likely to develop skin cancer. However, the survival rate for African Americans with skin cancer is 59%, which is lower than other ethnic groups. Of all cancers in African Americans, skin cancer is only about 2%.

Types of skin cancers

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are two of the most common forms of skin cancer. BCC and SCC are usually found in areas of the body that are exposed to the sun. This includes the head, neck and arms. Of 10 skin cancer cases, 8 of them are BCC. BCC and SCC rarely attack other parts of the body.

Melanoma (mel-uh-noh-muh) is another common type of skin cancer. If left untreated, melanoma can spread quickly and form tumors. Because melanoma can spread, it’s the most unsafe type of skin cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 73,870 new cases of melanoma will be identified this year. Some of those cases might be your friend or neighbor.

Skin cancer can be cured, especially if caught early.

Symptoms and diagnosis

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the most common sign of skin cancer is a change to your skin. Unusual skin changes include:

  • Reddish patches of dry skin that will not heal
  • Lumps or growths
  • Sores that won’t go away
  • Moles that grow and change shape or color
  • Moles that bleed, ooze or look scaly
  • Unexplained pain, itching or bleeding on the skin
  • Bruises that will not heal
  • Brown or black streaks under fingernails and toenails

If you notice any of these symptoms, talk to your primary care provider. He or she may refer you to see a dermatologist.

To diagnose skin cancer, a dermatologist checks the skin for any growths, moles or dry patches. The dermatologist may magnify the skin with a dermoscope to look closer at the pigment (coloring) and structures. If needed, the dermatologist will remove part of the skin for a biopsy. The process is quick, safe and easy.

An early diagnosis greatly increases the chances for successful treatment.

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How to reduce your risk

The biggest cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips to reduce your risk:

  • Stay in the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest
  • Wear hats with wide brims to shade the skin
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Use sunscreen, especially if you’ll be outside for a long time

Remember, you can be exposed to UV rays even on overcast days. Find a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Protect your lips with a lip balm of SPF 15 of higher. Stay safe while enjoying the summer sun.

Sources: Skin Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society, American Academy of Dermatology and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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