Health with Dr. Paula: Protecting yourself from skin cancer

Health with Dr. Paula: Protecting yourself from skin cancer

(WTVM) - Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, but it's also one of the most preventable.

Dr. Paula Walker King from Columbus State University stopped by the morning show Tuesday to talk about how to best protect yourself in the summer months.

There are two types of skin cancer that are the most common - basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – and both are highly curable.

Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is the deadliest kind of skin cancer, resulting in approximately 9,000 deaths each year.

Who's at risk? Typically those who have had chronic exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds are at risk. Other risk factors include:

  • Family/personal history of skin cancer
  • A large number of moles/freckles (as an indicator of sun sensitivity and damage)
  • A history of sunburns early in life (just 5 sunburns in your life doubles risk of skin cancer)
  • Light skin color

Many darker skinned people believe that they can't develop skin cancer. The reality is pigmentation doesn't give you a free pass. While darker-skinned people benefit from the protective effects of skin pigmentation, they are not naturally immune to the condition and can develop skin cancer at any time.

There are some early warning signs you can look out for.

  • A newly developed mole; A mole is a benign growth on the skin. Most moles develop in youth or young adulthood. It's unusual to acquire a mole in the adult years.
  • A-typical moles; they are larger and more irregular in shape with notched borders.
  • A mole that shrinks, grows, changes color, itches or bleeds
  • Asymmetry: asymmetry means one half of a mole does not match the other half. Normal moles are symmetrical. When checking your moles or freckles, draw an imaginary line through the middle and compare the two halves. If they do not look the same on both sides, have it checked by a dermatologist.

What can someone do to minimize the risk of skin cancer? Here are some key factors:

  • Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 to all exposed skin.
  • Example: An SPF of 15 would allow you to remain in the sun without burning 15 times longer than if you didn't apply sunscreen.
  • Use a water resistant sunscreen if you swim or sweat a great deal.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.
  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Protect children from sun exposure by playing in the shade, using protective clothing and applying sunscreen.
  • Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  • Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.

Copyright 2015 WTVM. All rights reserved.