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National Skin Cancer Awareness Month (May)

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and is the focus of this month's health observance. There are three prevalent types of skin cancer. The two most common types of skin cancer include basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. These two types are highly curable but often cause scarring when removed. The third most common type is melanoma which causes the most deaths due to skin cancer. The good news is skin cancer is a lifestyle disease, so it is highly preventable if given the proper care.

Skin cancer most often develops on skin that is regularly exposed to sun's UV rays such as your face, neck, and ears. UV rays penetrate the skin causing mutations of skin cells. There are three different types of UV rays: ultra violet A (UVA), ultra violet B (UVB), and ultra violet C (UVC). UVA rays are the most common type of UV ray and the most damaging due to penetration beyond the top layer of skin. UVB and UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and are less common but can still cause damage to the skin.

The first line of defense starts with you. Perform self-exams regularly and keep track of your moles. Remember, when performing your self-exams you are looking for the ABCDEs of melanoma.

  • A= Asymmetry, if one half is unlike the other.
  • B= Border, if the border of the mole is irregular or scalloped
  • C=Color, if colors within the mole vary, shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue.
  • D= Diameter, if the diameter is or exceeds 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser).
  • E= Evolving, if the mole is morphing or changing over time.

You can also help prevent skin cancer by reducing your sun exposure. Sun rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. If you know you are going to be outdoors during these hours be sure to apply sunscreen in advance. However, the best practice is to apply sunscreen daily. In the morning apply sunscreen to the face, the ears, the neck, the upper chest and the arms, because those are the most frequently exposed areas to the sun. An SPF of 30 is the magic number. Your sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes prior to exposure to sunlight. Many individuals wait until they are in the sun to apply sunscreen which leaves them defenseless for a whole 30 minutes. The reapplication of your sunscreen is also essential. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours. Other tips include but are not limited to wearing a hat, wearing sunglasses, and staying in the shade.

For more detailed information about Skin Cancer, please see American Academy of Dermatology.

Article provided by Emery Shekiro, Intern from James Madison University working with Dana Breeding, RN with Community Wellness of Augusta Health. To contact Dana Breeding, RN related to the information above please call (540) 334-4988 or (540) 932-4988