May is skin cancer awareness month — and if you live in Tampa Bay, where the sun is notoriously fierce, you're already at higher risk for it. That sun that beats down on us nearly 3,000 hours of the year may fill rooms with light, power appliances, and nourish crops and ecosystems — but it's a stone-cold killer if you're not careful.
Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Among those, melanoma is a less common form of skin cancer, but it is more likely to grow and spread — which makes it more deadly. The news is not all bad: if detected early, skin cancers — including melanoma — are highly treatable.
Rates of melanoma, too, are rising rapidly, especially in younger people. Alarmingly, cases of melanoma have tripled in the last 30 years, at a time when rates of other common cancers have declined. The major risk factor? Ultraviolet radiation — which can also cause genetic mutations, suppress the immune system and damage the eyes. Even though UV rays make up only a small part of the sun's rays, they're the main cause of skin cancer and the sun's damaging effects on skin.
• On average, 1 person dies from melanoma every hour.
• 20 percent of Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
• Nearly 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.
• The 5-year survival rate for melanoma, when detected and treated in its early stages, is 98%.
• When you check a spot or mole, know the ABCDEs of melanoma:
A - Asymmetry Each half is not a mirror image of the other
B - Border irregularity: edges are ragged, blurred or notched
C - Color is mottled, not uniform
D - Diameter is greater than 6 millimeters (the approx. size of a pencil eraser). They can be smaller, however.
E - Evolution Recent changes in color, size, shape, or behavior (like itching, scaliness, tenderness or bleeding)
One ounce of prevention
Both the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the World Health Organization have identified ultraviolet radiation as a proven human carcinogen, so DON'T BAKE, and shun indoor tanning beds, no matter what their safety claims. Use caution when outdoors: if your shadow is shorter than you are, own the shade.
Know that using the right sunscreen — in the right amount, in the right way — is key in protecting yourself from skin cancer and sun-related aging and skin damage.
• The right sunscreen? It must have an SPF of at least 30, be water resistant, and provide broad-spectrum coverage (shielding the skin from both UVA and UVB rays)
• The right amount? One ounce — enough to fill a shot glass
• The right way? It must be applied to ALL exposed skin — including ears, backs of feet, around edges of clothing — first, 30 minutes before going outside, and afterward, reapplied as frequently as indicated in directions. Be mindful of the expiration date.
If, knowing this, you still want a tan, skip the outdoor bakefest (and the indoor tanning salon) and get the spray-on kind. Why? Because an estimated 90 percent of skin aging is caused by the sun. And because the tan you get from the sun or a tanning bed is a sign of skin cell damage. Plus, a 2014 study found that worldwide, more skin cancer cases are due to indoor tanning than lung cancer cases are due to smoking.
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For over 29 years, the Academic Alliance in Dermatology has served the Tampa Bay area. Under the leadership of Panos Vasiloudes, MD, PHD, FAAD — AAD's 15 dermatology offices specialize in expert skin care; dermatopathology; Mohs surgery; pediatric, medical and surgical dermatology; and research. Dr. Vasiloudes believes in the ABCDEs of melanoma, and has more of his own to add, namely, the EFGHIs:
E - Experience and expertise of your medical team
F - Funny-looking moles
G - Genetics (information about a patient's family of origin)
H - History (personal, family, social and environmental history)
I - Instinct
Says Dr. Vasiloudes, "Applying the first five criteria, we are finding a higher rate of invasive melanomas. Applying the last five criteria, we have reduced the rate of invasive melanomas and metastatic melanomas to under 5%, and the prognosis of these cases is excellent."
If you are concerned about a mole or lesion and would like it examined or treated, or have any other dermatological concerns to address, contact one of their 15 area offices, or visit www.tampadermatology.com. Because who knows your skin better than a dermatologist?
Sources: skincancer.org, cancer.org, aad.org, curemelanoma.org, tampadermatology.com