Lounging by the pool or working in the garden may help pass the long summer days, but unless you take proper precautions, these activities can also raise your risk of skin cancer.
“People forget, but the largest organ in the human body is the skin,” said OMRF scientist Judith James, M.D, Ph.D. “Because it’s the most exposed, it also has the greatest risk for cancer.”
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, accounting for more than 2 million cases each year in the United States.
Most of those are non-melanoma cancers, which aren’t likely to spread to other organs and can be cured if caught and treated quickly. But each year 70,000 Americans develop melanomas, cancers that start in melanocytes—skin cells that produce pigment—and are the leading cause of death from skin disease.
Fear of developing skin cancer may prompt many to stay out of the sun altogether, but that’s a mistake, James said. Too much sun can increase risk for skin cancer, but some sun exposure is necessary for maintaining Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays a major role in keeping bones strong and may also help the immune system and other body processes.
Although sometimes challenging in Oklahoma, avoiding sunburn is critical. Remember to wear sunscreen and apply frequently when sweat or water activities might diminish effectiveness. Especially be careful with the skin of young children and with areas often forgotten, like the tops of ears or the back of your neck.
Still, emphasizes James, even a diagnosis of melanoma does not mean you will end up as a grim statistic. “Melanoma is dangerous, but early identification and treatment are key,” James said. “Be aware of changes to your skin and talk about it with your doctor. Early treatment will save lives.”
Early warning signs for skin cancer include:
– Changes on the skin, like a new growth or a difference in size or color of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot.
– If a bump or node exhibits scaliness, oozing, bleeding or changes in appearance.
– If pigmentation spreads, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark.
– A change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness or pain.
“Anybody can get skin cancer, so it’s important to be vigilant,” James said. “A balance can be reached. Spending just 10 minutes a day outside can provide your body with the Vitamin D it needs while keeping the risk of over-exposure at manageable levels.”