End of Summer Update on Skin Cancer, Melanoma
As the summer ends and many take their last trips to beaches and outdoor destinations for the Labor Day Holiday, experts remind of the risks of sun exposure, and steps to take to prevent skin cancer.
Balintfy: Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types of skin cancer are highly curable.
DiGiovanna: The most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Balintfy: Dr. John DiGiovanna is a dermatologist in the Dermatology Branch at the National Cancer Institute.
DiGiovanna: Melanoma is less common, and there are a few different types.
Balintfy: Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous. It can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated early, but if melanoma is not removed in its early stages, it may spread to other parts of the body and be difficult to control. Dr. DiGiovanna emphasizes the importance of managing risk.
DiGiovanna: If an individual knows they’re at a genetic risk for melanoma because they carry a particular gene, then it's important for them to do skin self-evaluations and to have very competent dermatologic evaluations. If an individual's risk is high because they have a family history of melanoma or a personal history of melanoma, if they’ve had blistering sunburns in the past, they also can derive a great deal of benefit from self-examination, from dermatologic examination, but they can also use measures to protect themselves.
Balintfy: The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun. Dr. DiGiovanna suggests not being out in the most intense hours of sunlight — from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm — without protection.
DiGiovanna: And protection would mean a broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeved clothing, and in areas that can't be covered, using sunscreens.
Balintfy: He recommends sunscreen that protects against the sun's ultraviolet rays — UVA and UVB — which both have the capacity to cause the damage that causes skin cancer.
DiGiovanna: There are an excellent spectrum of sunscreens available. So, if someone is going to be doing outdoor sporting activities, there are sunscreens that are made to feel comfortable on the skin for that. If you’re going to be doing water activities, there are sunscreens that are waterproof and that will be very resistant to washing off. But if you are going to be out and you are going to be doing watersports or running and sweating, you really do need to reapply the sunscreen every two hours to keep it being effective.
Balintfy: Dr. DiGiovanna says you should look for a sun protective factor or SPF of 15 or higher and apply it 10-15 minutes before going outdoors. If you’re going to be out for a long period of time, he adds you should reapply it at least every two hours.
DiGiovanna: It's not complete protection like a suit of armor, so if you stay out longer time than you would when you would burn without sunscreen, you can actually increase your risk by getting a huge amount of ultraviolet radiation exposure. So, it needs to be used prudently if it's going to be used helpfully.
Balintfy: And don't think indoor tanning is less risky that outdoor sun exposure. Dr. Digiovanna adds that the risks from tanning devices are now well accepted.
DiGiovanna: The World Health Organization has declared indoor tanning devices as carcinogenic, and the risk now we know holds true regardless of when individuals start, whether they start at a young age or an adult age.
Balintfy: To hear more from Dr. DiGiovanna on skin cancer, listen to the NIH Research Radio podcast, episode 115. For more information on the types of skin cancer — including melanoma — and prevention and treatments, plus the latest research, visit www.cancer.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.