The Sun is Out: What You Need to Know about Skin Cancer

Title: Pathology: Patient: Melanoma Descriptio...
Melanoma on a patient’s skin. Source: National Cancer Institute (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So many of my patients think that they don’t need to worry about protecting themselves from the sun. But the sun doesn’t always respect your age, lifestyle, or skin color. Today, we look at some myths around skin cancer.

1. I have dark skin, so I don’t need protection. Unfortunately, darker skin does not guarantee you won’t get skin cancer. Yes, I (an African-American) may be less likely to get it than my white friends, but African American and Hispanics who develop the aggressive skin cancer melanoma are more likely to die from the disease than whites. Part of the difference may be delays to evaluation: So if in doubt, check it out!

2. Tans are healthy and reduce skin damage. While a base tan can delay sunburn, the ultraviolet light is still damaging away. The DNA in suntanned skin has already been damaged by ultraviolet radiation. It is DNA damage that can lead to cancer. So, if you are trying to leave your skin healthier, avoid the tanning bed, the sun lamp, and tanning in general.

3. I can’t develop skin cancer in the parts of my body that are not exposed to the sun. While sun-exposed areas are the most risky, cancer can develop in virtually any skin area.

4. Since I use sunscreen and try to spend too much time in the sun, I won’t get skin cancer. While it is true that these maneuvers lower risk, they do not drive it to zero. And many individuals don’t use sunscreen properly. Aim for an SPF 30 or higher, applied 30 minutes before sun exposure. This allows for absorption into the skin. Then remember to reapply appropriately, including after you leave the water. Try to avoid high sun times, such as between 10am and 4pm. For extra credit, remember the hat and long sleeves! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes. Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. All can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Thank you.

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

One thought on “The Sun is Out: What You Need to Know about Skin Cancer”

  1. Very helpful information, thank you. Living on the shore means much sun exposure. Is there a recommended frequency for reapplying sunscreen?

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