Photo: CC Johntex, 2006.
May is Melanoma Awareness Month
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST ELIZABETH GOLDBERG, M.D., FAAD
Dr. Goldberg is Director of Urban Dermatology, New York, NY
Happy spring—sort of! We’ve finally swapped our heavy winter parkas for rain boots, jackets, and umbrellas. With the torrential rains we have been experiencing, many of us are ready for some better weather.
I must say I wouldn’t mind trading in these interminably gloomy days for some sunny ones, although secretly, I’m not that unhappy.
One reason is related to my profession and another is related to a beloved pastime of mine – gardening. When it rains, I don’t have to worry about each and every one of you getting too much sun and my fruits and veggies get a lot of water, so I don’t have to worry about them either. But there are many others things I have to worry about, so don’t sit there thinking I have it all that good!
Skin cancer for dummies
As the headline points out, the month of May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and when debating upon the subject matter for this post, I felt I must write about this potentially fatal form of skin cancer.
I won’t bore you with too many technical details or numbers but I want to impress upon you that melanoma is a very serious matter.
I will give a brief summary of “skin cancer for dummies” for those of you who have not had this important conversation with your dermatologist. (You all have regular skin cancer screenings with your dermatologist—right?)
There are two main types of skin cancer-melanoma and non melanoma skin cancer. This is a very general statement, as there are other tumors of the skin you can get that are beyond the scope of this post.
The non melanoma types, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, tend to be less aggressive, although if left untreated, can cause troubles of their own.
Then there is melanoma, which can be fatal. However, if caught early enough, it is possible that treatment by cutting out the bad spot can be completely curative.
It turns out about one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer over their life and melanoma is the most common type of cancer in adults age 25-29.
There are many factors which can contribute to the development of melanoma. Genetics do play a role, so if you have a close relative with the disease, early screening is a must. And of course, there is the sun or more accurately UV light. Tanning beds are officially carcinogenic according to the FDA, just like cigarettes, and will greatly increase ones chance of developing a melanoma. So please, I beg of you don’t do it!
Shedding some light on sunshine
Although I know you have all heard it over and over here are a few tips for sun safety.
Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen that covers UVA and UVB. My personal favorites are the physical blockers, so look for ingredients such as zinc and titanium.
The most important thing about sunscreen is using enough and re-applying. Generally it is recommended to use about an ounce to cover your body. (Think shot glass although I know its been a long time for most of since those college days.)
Most sunscreens do not continue to provide effective protection for more than two hours. You must reapply! That means if you showered and put on sunscreen at 7:30 a.m., by 10 a.m. you need more. This is where most of get lazy or forgetful.
One thing I find helpful is keeping covered so I don’t have to slather as much. There is some great sun-protective clothing out there and you can even buy a rinse you put in the washing machine with your clothes that will give regular clothes some protection for a couple of washings.
And don’t forget about your head, eyes, and lips. Hats, sunglasses and lipbalms with SPF are a must!
Healthy skin self care habits
Check your own skin regularly and if anything looks new or different or you just don’t remember it, please get it evaluated by a board certified dermatologist.
Even if you don’t notice anything new or changed, please get a skin cancer screening once a year. Although common, skin cancer is very preventable and often completely curable if caught in the early stages.
So grab your accoutrements for sun safety and enjoy the spring and summer!
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.