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How to Reduce Your Risk of Skin Cancer

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and a time to remind ourselves, especially with the warmer weather approaching, of the danger of skin cancer and the ways we can reduce our risk of getting it.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and nearly 5 million people each year are treated for it.   Skin cancer can be serious or even deadly.  But fortunately, most skin cancers can be prevented.

Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions. Ultraviolet (UV) rays, from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds are known to cause skin cancer.  Skin cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands, and legs. But it can also form on areas that are not normally exposed to sunlight.  Damage from exposure to UV rays builds up over time, so sun protection should start at an early age.

Protection from UV rays is important all year, not just during the summer or at the beach.  UV rays can even reach you on a cloudy day or through a car window.  Here are some tips for reducing your exposure to UV rays and thereby reducing your risk to develop skin cancer:

Stay in the shade:  In the midday hours between 10am-4pm, it is best to refrain from being in the direct sunlight.  If you must be outside, protect yourself by seeking shade under a tree, an awning or an umbrella during these hours while the UV rays are the most hazardous.

Use sunscreen:  Most sunscreen products work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays.  You should apply a broad- spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin and get help for hard-to-reach places like your back.

Cover up:  Clothing can provide a great barrier against the sun’s UV rays. Wearing a wide-brim hat provides extra protection for your scalp, ears, and neck.  Clothes made from tightly woven fabric can help safeguard you from UV rays, so while at the beach or pool, be sure to add a cover-up over your bathing suit for added protection.  And don’t forget the sunglasses!  Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any new or unusual changes to your skin that worry you. Not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. Your physician will investigate your skin changes to determine a cause.

Skin cancer prevention starts with you! Consistently using these sun protection measures from an early age builds your strongest defense against developing skin cancer.

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