Protecting Your Skin From Cancer
- Wearing sunscreen will decrease your risk for skin cancer, however, it’s important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
- Our leading experts and SurvivorNet medical advisors have got you covered with important reminders for protecting your skin during all seasons.
Schultz received her first Melanoma diagnosis in January of 2015 when she noticed an asymmetrical mole on her right shoulder, which prompted her to see a doctor.Read More
The Iowa resident still gets skin tests done every three months and lives in a state with one of the top Melanoma rates in the US. As per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Iowa has 31 new cases for every 100,000 cases.
“A health class I took just to meet a college credit requirement might have ended up saving my life. Everyone in class was assigned a different virus or disease to research and give a presentation on: mine was skin cancer,” Schultz wrote on her GiveSmart fundraising page for IMPACT Melanoma. “Because of this, when I found a mole on my right shoulder three years later, I knew I needed to get it checked out. It had asymmetrical, uneven borders, was larger than the end of a pencil and had a black dot in the center.”
Schultz revealed that her mole came back positive for cancer less than one week after a dermatologist removed it. She continued, “I was diagnosed with Stage 1b melanoma. Since then, I’ve had over 20 biopsies and 8 surgeries and my melanoma has come back twice.”
Despite fighting off cancer, Schultz has chosen to combat her post-cancer feelings and sense of identity struggles with a community she built through Instagram. “These connections gave me a voice again. I began to share my experiences and educate others on skin cancer and how to be sun safe,” she added. “There was so much I didn’t know and I wish I could take back all the mistakes I unknowingly made.”
Schultz is now considered a melanoma educator through the Melanoma Research Foundation and hopes to further advocate for skin cancer awareness and prevention, as well as offer mental health resources to anyone in need. She said she’s spoken on Capitol Hill to lawmakers about funding efforts for cancer research.
Understanding Skin Cancer
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that over 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, making it the most common cancer in the United States. And although summer is upon us, it’s important to remember that the risk of developing skin cancer is very much still around all throughout the year.
Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, previously told SurvivorNet that her patients always ask whether sunscreen is needed all year round. “The answer is yes. People think they only need sun protection when they’re in the bright, warm sunshine,” Engelman explains. “But the reality is, we can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Think about when you go skiing. That’s a very high risk. Even though it’s cold, our skin should be protected.”
The top five things Dr. Engelman, recommends to avoid skin cancer:
- Avoid sun during peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional) because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
It’s important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
The Dangers of Tanning Beds
And if you’re considering visiting a tanning bed before an upcoming summer vacation or a special event, we’d highly suggest you think again. Just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of melanoma by 20 percent, squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
When you hop into a tanning bed, you are exposing yourself to the very same dangerous rays you expose yourself to outside – but they’re only 6-8 inches away. And in a study recently published in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, researchers suggest that banning tanning beds among minors would prevent thousands of cases of melanoma in adolescents, along with millions of dollars in healthcare costs.
So, even if the temptation of achieving a nice “glow” seems irresistible, you should note that health experts warn against using tanning beds.
“Studies have shown that exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer and ocular cancer,” says Dr. Lynn A. Cornelius, chief of the division of dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “It also induces changes that lead to premature aging of the skin. There is no ‘safe’ tanning bed.”
Dr. Anna Pavlick, an oncologist specializing in skin cancer at Weill Cornell, echoed Dr. Cornelius’ statements by explaining that tanning beds increase your chances of melanoma “exponentially.”
“We know there is a direct correlation with [melanoma] patients who go to indoor tanning salons,” Dr. Pavlick tells SurvivorNet, who notes that the exposure “is about 6 inches from your body.”
The sun is millions of miles away when you’re on a beach, “so you have to think of the intensity that you’re exposing your skin to when you go to a tanning salon,” she says.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff