House Call: Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 11:05 AM EDT
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With summer around the corner, we continue our discussion about the importance of sunscreen. Joining us tonight for Skin Cancer Awareness Month is Gretchen Hennigan, nurse navigator and certified oncology nurse at the Cecil B. Highland, Jr. & Barbara B. Highland Cancer Center at United Hospital Center.

1). So, who is more likely to get skin cancer men or women?

Men tend to get more sun exposure than women do. Men spend more time outside over their lifetimes than women, and they are more likely to work outdoors than women. Women’s personal care products, like moisturizer and makeup, often contain sunscreen, while many products for men do not.

About one-third of U.S. adults is sunburned each year. Sunburn, which can increase your risk of getting skin cancer, is common among white men, young adults, and men who tan indoors. When outside on a sunny day for more than an hour, only about 14% of men use sunscreen on both their face and other exposed skin.

2). What is the source of the damage from the sun?

The source of the damage is ultraviolet (UV) rays, which is an invisible form of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps. UV rays can penetrate and damage skin cells.

In addition to causing sunburn, too much exposure to UV rays can change skin texture, cause the skin to age prematurely, and can lead to skin cancer. UV rays also have been linked to eye conditions such as cataracts.

The National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency developed the UV Index to forecast the risk of overexposure to UV rays. It lets you know how much caution you should take when spending time outdoors.

The UV Index predicts exposure levels on a 0 to 11+ scale; higher levels indicate a higher risk of overexposure. If the UV index is 3 or higher, sun protection is needed. Calculated on a next-day basis for dozens of cities across the United States, the UV Index takes into account clouds and other local conditions that affect the amount of UV rays reaching the ground.

UV rays are strongest:

  • From late morning through mid-afternoon.
  • Near the equator.
  • During summer months.
  • At high altitudes.

Remember that sunburns and skin damage can occur even on cloudy or overcast days.

3). What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?

A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that does not heal, or a change in a mole. Not all skin cancers look the same.

Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that does not heal a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma.

For melanoma specifically, a simple way to remember the warning signs is to remember the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma—

  • “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
  • “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
  • “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
  • “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  • “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

Remember to talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin.  I cannot stress how important this is as West Virginia has the third highest melanoma mortality rate in the country.

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