PADUCAH — Summer months bring a lot of outdoor activities, be it swimming in the lake or a pool or just tackling weekly yard work. And while there is likely more opportunity for exposure to the sun during summer months, protecting your skin from its harmful effects is important year round.
“Actually, we are at risk year-round; people sometimes don’t realize that,” said Jamie Smith, cancer control specialist with the Kentucky Cancer Program’s Paducah office. “Even in the winter months, the sun can reflect off the snow, which can cause us to have a sunburn as well. The biggest thing that we want everyone to know is that there are two ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun that actually cause damage to our skin; those are UVA and UVB.
“UVA rays are like the aging rays, that is what gives us brown spots and wrinkles. The UVB rays are what cause sunburn, and we know the more sunburns you have over time increases your risk for skin cancer.”
Smith said there are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. She said that melanoma is the most deadly form, while basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are more common.
“The reason why melanoma is so much more deadly, is that melanoma spreads under the skin,” Smith said. “So you don’t really see it spreading where basal cell and squamous cell spread across the skin first and you can more easily see those getting bigger.
“The good thing is that, if found early, skin cancer is very treatable. So every year people are encouraged to know what is normal and not on their body, and if there are any changes you want to let a doctor look at that.”
Smith said that this is why people need to know about the ABCDEs of melanoma and be on the lookout for potential changes in their skin. The acronym stands for: asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving.
“Asymmetry is one of the most important ones. If you have a spot that you are really concerned about and were to put a line down the middle of it and if it looks the same on both sides that is good,” Smith said. “It is when it is irregular that you want to make sure someone looks at it.”
Smith said that border has to do with the edges of a mole or lesion. She said that if there is a smooth edge where it meets the skin that is normal, but people should have it checked out if the border feels jagged or rough.
“C is color and a lot of people think if they have a really dark mole that is alarming, but melanoma can actually be multiple colors,” Smith said. “Usually if there are different colors within one lesion they may look at that and remove that. Melanomas can even have blue, green or red colors.”
For diameter, Smith said the general rule of thumb is if a mole or lesion is bigger than a pencil eraser, someone should take a look at it. But she said that cancers can occur smaller than that, so paying attention to other characteristics is important.
The last letter, E, stands for evolving.
“If anything changes color, changes shape or changes size you want to have a dermatologist take a look at that,” she said.
Smith said genetic factors can sometimes put people at higher risks for skin cancers.
“Those that have fair skin, blonde hair, red hair, blue eyes, green eyes — all of those are at higher risk,” she said. “You can’t really do anything about that but you can wear sunscreen or take extra measures to stay in the shade.”
Smith said one of the biggest skin protective measures, especially during summer months, is the reapplication of sunscreen.
“The big thing is the reapplication of sunscreen. Even if it says it is waterproof or water resistant, it isn’t,” Smith said. “If you get out in the lake or in the pool, or if you are just outdoors playing, if you dry yourself off, you have wiped that sunscreen off, so you need to reapply it.
“Especially in the summer, if you have people outside working, those people need to pay careful attention to that as well.”
Smith said sunscreen should be reapplied any time a person dries off their skin or at least every two hours.
“The recommendations right now are SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum,” Smith said. “Broad spectrum simply means that it is protecting you from both UVA and UVB rays.”
Smith said wearing hats is a good way to protect the skin on your neck if outside, and added that a lot of clothing manufacturers are making UV resistant clothing as well.
On top of taking precautions such as these, Smith said that people over the age of 40 need to begin seeing a dermatologist on an annual basis. For infants under six months of age, a pediatrician should be consulted before applying sunscreen.
“For infants, it is a little different, and it is up to the pediatrician,” Smith said. “Some say infants shouldn’t use sunscreen until they are at least six months old. So in those instances, it is really important to use the umbrellas and the protective clothing.”