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The One Thing You Should Do Every Day to Protect Yourself from Skin Cancer



June 10, 2020
Your body's largest organ can also be one of the hardest to protect. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. About 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with either basal or squamous cell skin cancers each year, and some people have more than one diagnosis.

According to GBMC HealthCare surgical oncologist Arun Mavanur, M.D., MS, FRCS, these diagnoses have one thing in common: long-term exposure to ultraviolet rays.

"Ultraviolet ray exposure has something to do with these cancers. It also, to some extent, depends on the person's skin – how it reacts to ultraviolet rays or sunlight."

Mavanur says the easiest way to protect yourself from the damaging rays is to wear sunscreen every day. That's right, every single day.

Dr. Mavanur explains that most people know that too much sun isn't good for their skin, but it's the UV rays that are harmful.

"The UV index is much more important than looking out and not seeing obvious sunlight," he says. "Anything more than 3 on the UV index is an indication to protect yourself."

Dr. Mavanur also mentions these types of skin cancer don't appear after one summer season but are a result of prolonged exposure to UV rays over a period of time.

"Most of the people with basal cell skin cancer are older because it's taken decades of sun damage to lead to a diagnosis," Dr. Mavanur says.

The key to effective protection is less about the SPF number and how often you apply it.

"30 to 50 SPF is more than enough. Anything higher is not worth the money. Some sunscreens claim to be waterproof, but make sure you reapply often," Dr. Mavanur says. He also mentions that you'll want to apply in less obvious places, including the back of your hands, neck, and scalp if you have thin or no hair on your head.

In addition to sunscreen, there are other ways to protect your skin, including wearing hats, especially ones with a full brim, and clothing with SPF built into the fabric. You should also avoid being outside during peak hours for UV exposure, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. However, Dr. Mavanur emphasizes the best way to keep yourself safe is to make a daily habit of applying SPF to exposed areas.

Completing monthly skin checks is another useful habit that can protect you from developing advanced stages of skin cancer. Keep an eye out for any new moles or changes to existing spots. Follow the ABCDE guidelines when looking at your moles:

Asymmetry: One half should match the other.

Border: Moles should have a well-defined border.

Color: Watch out for differing shades within each spot.

Diameter: Pay attention to anything larger than a pencil eraser.

Evolve: Has there been any change in size, shape or color?

Dr. Mavanur recommends checking for moles in commonly missed areas like the back of the ears, the bottom of your feet, and in between your toes. He says if anything looks off, make a note and ask an expert to look at it.

"Take a picture (of the mole) to keep a record. If anything looks worrisome, go and see a dermatologist."
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