Playing it Safe Under the Sun

Skin cancer has become a fact of life for many people. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of new cases of skin cancer diagnosed every year. There are ways, however, to enjoy the sun while protecting yourself from its harmful effects. Skin cancer can be prevented. And, when detected early, skin cancer is also one of the most curable forms of cancer.

"By taking certain preventive measures, you can dramatically reduce your risk of developing skin cancer," notes David Simkin, M.D., a dermatologist at Lowell General Hospital. "Using sunblock is one of them." When outdoors, always use a sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Apply the sunblock at least 15 minutes before exposure to the sun. Check the label to find out exactly how long the product will protect you and reapply as often as necessary. Staying out of the sun entirely during peak hours will also reduce your risks substantially. "I highly recommend avoiding exposure to the sun from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. when the sun's rays are the strongest and most damaging," says Dr. Simkin. Of course, covering up with hats and clothing can provide you with added protection at any time of day.

In addition to protecting your skin from the sun's rays, you should also be aware of any changes in your skin that could be signs of skin cancer. You can do this by examining your skin on a monthly basis and visiting your physician routinely for a full-body skin exam. When examining yourself, use two mirrors to monitor all sides of your body. Pay close attention to those areas that are most commonly exposed to the sun, such as your face, back, arms and legs, as well as the back of your neck and back of your hands. You are looking for discolored areas and changes in moles or birthmarks. Anything unusual should be examined by a physician.

Basel cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common, and easily treated, forms of skin cancer. The most life-threatening type is malignant melonoma , but even this form is curable if treated early. "We usually treat skin cancer by surgically removing the entire area surrounding the lesion," explains Dr. Simkin. "The tissue is then analyzed by a pathologist." The outcome of this testing will determine the need for future treatments which may include further surgery, freezing or radiation therapy.

After such a long and trying winter, it is a pleasure to once again feel the warmth of the sun. Despite the dangers that come with it, the sun does not have to be our enemy. We can enjoy its benefits and protect ourselves at the same time. Just take the proper precautions to lessen your risk of developing skin cancer and you can enjoy the sun while playing it safe.


Lowell General Hospital, 295 Varnum Avenue, Lowell, Massachusetts 01854, Main Telephone: (978) 937-6000
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