(New Orleans) Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with melanoma being the deadliest kind of skin cancer. Caused by ultraviolet light (UV), melanoma can be easily prevented by limiting sun exposure, especially among infants and young people, and avoiding indoor tanning.
“Though a relatively small number of people in Louisiana die from melanoma, we want people to know they can avoid these kinds of deaths by protecting themselves from the sun and not using tanning beds,” said Colleen Ryan-Huard, manager of the Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (LCCCP). “May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month to help stress to people before summer begins to limit their sun exposure. Plus, we really want people to protect their young ones, as well as remind the fishermen, hunters and boaters of Louisiana they are particularly vulnerable. Cover up!”
Skin cancer risk accumulates over time, with each exposure increasing the risk, especially in young people who have more sensitive skin. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says there is convincing evidence linking UV exposure during childhood and youth (up to age 24) to a moderately increased skin cancer risk; and adequate evidence linking UV exposure to a small increase in skin cancer for adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts it more boldly, saying “just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life.”
LCCCP, which works on creating awareness of preventable cancers in the state, says people should take the following precautions:
- Plan outdoor activities before or after midday. If that is not possible, be sure there is shade in the form of trees, umbrellas, tents, etc. when the sun is the strongest.
- Choose the right clothing. When possible, wear long sleeves, pants and skirts. Tightly woven fabrics, darker colors and dry clothes offer more protection too.
- Wear a hat.
- Wear sunglasses. UV rays can lead to cataracts later in life. Look for wraparound glasses which block as close to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
- Apply and reapply sunscreen. Use at least an SPF 15 with UVA and UVB protection every time you go out.
People with fair skin, freckles, light eyes and blonde or red hair are more vulnerable to sun damage, so they should be sure to take precautions. So too should people with a personal or family history of skin cancer and those who have a large number of moles, as well as those with certain autoimmune diseases, an organ transplant and/or taking medications that lower the immune system or make the skin more sensitive to light.
LCCCP also wants people to be aware of the signs of skin cancer, with the most common being a change in the skin, including things such as a sore that doesn’t heal, a growth or a change in an existing mole.
For melanoma specifically, remember ABCDE:
- A - Asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape?
- B - Border. Is the border irregular/jagged?
- C - Color. Is the color uneven?
- D - Diameter. Is the mole or spot bigger than the size of a pea?
- E - Evolving. Has the spot changed recently (weeks/months)?
Skin cancer will look different on different people, so it is important to be aware of what is normal for you. Talk to your doctor if you notice a new growth or sore, any of the ABCDEs of melanoma or any changes in your skin.
To learn more about skin cancer, go to http://louisianacancer.org/skin-cancer.
The Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (LCCCP) is part of the CDC-funded Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs (LCP) housed at the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Public Health. For more information, go to www.louisianacancer.org.