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Skin Cancer Awareness Month — May 2021

Skin cancer is a common and often preventable type of cancer that can affect people of all ages, especially those with fair skin. May has been designated as skin cancer awareness month to encourage people to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays and check for signs of skin cancer. 

Skin cancer is a type of cancer that causes abnormal growth of skin cells. In most cases, skin cancer is caused by harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, especially UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate through the earth’s ozone layer, while UVB rays are only partially absorbed. UVA rays contribute to premature aging of the skin, showing up as brown spots and wrinkles. 

On the other hand, UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and most skin cancers, which are increasingly more common with the thinning of the ozone layer. Nearly 10,000 people per day are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer in the United States.

Skin cancer awareness month takes place every year in May. In the northern hemisphere, May often means warmer weather, sunnier skies, and more people eager to spend time outside. Many health care organizations use this month to focus public awareness efforts on helping people check themselves for skin cancer and educating them on how to prevent it. 

The most common types of skin cancer are categorized as either nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, or melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma skin cancers are often considered the most serious because they have a higher risk of spreading to other parts of the body

Every year, World Melanoma Day is celebrated on the second Monday in May.

Since melanoma can be one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, skin cancer awareness month also includes World Melanoma Day, or “Melanoma Monday.” About half of melanoma cases in the United States are identified “in situ,” meaning they’re isolated to the outer skin layer. If melanoma goes undetected and spreads to other layers, it’s considered invasive and increases the risk of death.

Melanoma awareness month focuses on increasing melanoma awareness and helping people check their skin for signs of melanoma to catch it before cancer spreads.

Melanoma develops in the skin cells that produce the body’s skin color (called the melanin). If you find new moles or your existing moles start to change, it could be an early sign of melanoma. A normal mole is typically a consistent shape and color, while a melanoma spot has inconsistencies.

Look for the “ABCDE” warning signs of melanoma on  skin:

  • Asymmetrical shape of a mole
  • Borders around the mole that are uneven, wavy, or jagged
  • Color that varies from dark to light brown or even red, white, blue, or black
  • Diameter of more than 6 millimeters
  • Evolution of the mole’s shape, size, color, length, or texture (whether it has flaking, itching, or bleeding)

Check your skin regularly — at least once a month — so that you can recognize new moles and track existing ones. If you notice any warning signs, make an appointment to see a health care provider or dermatologist. They can examine the mole more closely and make recommendations about treatment options if necessary.

One simple and highly effective way to reduce risk of skin cancer and melanoma is by protecting your skin from the sun. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30 or higher every day. Reapply it more frequently if you’re sweating, swimming, or outside for extended periods.

Here are some other skin safety tips for melanoma awareness month to help reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

Put together a sun-safety pack that includes items that will help limit your exposure to the sun’s harmful rays: 

  • Long-sleeved clothing to cover your arms and legs. Choose lighter fabrics and colors to help keep cool.
  • A pair of sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays
  • A sun hat to help shade your face and neck from the sun
  • Sunscreen with at least SPF 30 or higher. Follow the instructions on the label to ensure that you’re getting the right amount of coverage. Store sunscreen in a closed container at room temperature and only use it if it hasn’t expired.
  • A bottle of water to help you stay hydrated in high temperatures or sunny conditions.

During the spring and summer months, the sun is strongest between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Generally speaking, the shorter your shadow, the stronger the sun. If you have to be outside during the sun’s peak intensity, stay in the shade.

To reduce your risk of skin cancer, you should spend less time in the sun. This is especially true if you have fair skin, freckled skin, tend to burn easily, or have a family history of skin cancer. To reduce your risk of skin cancer, avoid sun tanning, even if you’re wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF. 

Tanning beds deliver UV rays and can be just as dangerous as tanning in natural sunlight. 

To reduce your risk of developing invasive melanoma, it is recommended to do a skin examination every month and see a dermatologist once a year. Doing a self-exam of your skin is simple:  

  • Stand naked in front of a full-length mirror in a brightly lit room. 
  • Check the front of your body from your face down to your chest, arms, torso, and legs.
  • Check every side of your body, including your underarms.
  • Turn your back to the mirror and use a hand-held mirror to check the back of your body, including your legs.
  • Examine your arms, hands, fingers, and fingernails for melanoma-like spots. 
  • Remember to check the soles of your feet too!

Since May is skin cancer awareness month, it’s the perfect time to look at your overall skin health. Develop a good skin care routine that includes protecting yourself from UVA and UVB rays by avoiding direct sunlight and wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF, UV-blocking sunglasses, and long layers.

Check your skin regularly and see your health care provider if you spot any suspicious changes to your skin using the ABCDE method.


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