NJ cancer doctor explains why you should be careful out in the sun
As summer heats up, it’s important to keep in mind that ultraviolet radiation is one of the major risk factors for skin cancer and melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer because of its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if it's not treated in early stages).
How can you protect the skin from the sun?
Avoid sun exposure during peak hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when ultraviolet rays are the most intense, said Dr. Franz Smith, general surgeon and complex surgical oncologist at the Cancer Center at Clara Maass Medical Center and Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.
Use a minimum SPF 30 sunscreen, he said. Reapply a shot-glass full of sunscreen for an adult every couple of hours, especially after swimming or sweating.
He also suggested wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the head and face. People working outdoors in jobs such as landscaping, public works, construction, or playing sports, can wear UV radiation retardant clothing that will help decrease UV rays hitting the skin.
Smith said sunblock is water-resistant, not waterproof, meaning it won’t immediately wash off when coming out of the pool or the ocean, but it’s still important to reapply.
How do you know if you have melanoma?
Oncologists and surgeons suggest following the “ABCDE” approach, meaning asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolution.
Smith said most melanomas come from an existing mole.
Asymmetry: If one half of the mole does not look like the other half, that is concerning.
Border: If the border surrounding the melanoma looks irregular, notched, or rugged-looking, that is also of concern.
Color: Look for areas that are alternating black or brown. Look for significant color variations.
Diameter: If moles are greater than 6mm, (the size of a pencil eraser), that’s a sign too.
Evolving: Look for anything that’s developing: if the mole is getting bigger if the shape is changing if the color is changing if it’s bleeding—these are all signs of concern.
How does melanoma affect people of color?
While nearly 75% of all skin cancer cases occur among the white population, according to The American Cancer Society, about 30% of cases are among people of color.
Smith said that while people of color, in general, are at a lower risk of developing melanomas when they do develop them, the tumors tend to be more aggressive, deeper and often deadlier.
Oftentimes, melanomas arise in unusual locations on darker skin tones, such as the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and under the nail beds.
People of color are four times more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage melanoma and 1.5 times more likely to die from it, according to ACS.
It's not 'just' skin cancer
Smith said it’s a mistake to think it’s just skin cancer because melanoma can be quite aggressive. It can spread from the skin to the parts of the body such as the lung, liver, and bones. It can spread anywhere. If it’s not caught early, it can cause death.
It’s the number one increasing cancer in men and number two in women, and is responsible for a significant number of cancer deaths in younger people, Smith said.
Is melanoma treatable?
The good news is that if caught early, melanoma is entirely treatable with surgery alone, Smith said. He said it’s so important to get screened for skin cancer and to use sun protection.
For those who develop melanoma, there are so many more treatment options available today than there were five to ten years ago.
“There are a plethora of new drugs that have been FDA approved, and multiple new trials that are available. So, for those patients who present with more advanced disease or metastatic disease, we have a lot more options that we can use,” Smith said.
There are many ways to reduce the risk of developing deadly melanoma. Smith said using sunscreen, wearing UV radiation retardant clothing, getting screened by a dermatologist, and avoiding tanning beds are ways to lower such a risk.
Smith said surgery remains the go-to standard for treating melanoma, especially in its early stages.
Taking such precautions has led to a greater increase in survival rates for melanoma patients, he added.