Friday, May 21, 2010

Skin Cancer Awareness Month

When I was only 23 I was diagnosed with melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer. On a routine check, my dermatologist found a small, dark un-raised mole on the back of my calf (I had never even noticed it), which she immediately biopsied...only a week later, I was scheduled to have surgery. I was incredibly lucky to have such an aware and thorough doctor - had I not seen a dermatologist when I did, I was told that the melanoma could have spread in a mere two months, which could have been fatal.

I have grown up in sun-drenched Southern California, and for the last 7 yrs I have done my best to help keep my high-risk skin cancer-free, while still enjoying the beach/outdoors, etc. I see a dermatologist every 6 months; each visit often includes at least 3-5 additional biopsies. Although it's a little uncomfortable sometimes, it's a small price to pay to stay healthy! Since my first diagnosis, my dermo has found additional abnormalities that, had they not been removed, could have turned into melanoma.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with 3.5 million new cases every year. 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer, and 90% of these cancers are caused by UV exposure. In an effort to help protect friends and family (and fellow bloggers), I have a list of must-do's in order to take a huge step toward prevention.

1. Apply SPF 30+ everyday - whether you are inside or outside, you are exposed to harmful rays. If you are going to be outside for an extended period of time, you will need a shot-glass of sunscreen to cover your body (most people do not apply enough), and at least a teaspoon on your face (everyday - rain or shine!). Even if your makeup has SPF, you should apply a layer of 30+ sunscreen 10 min prior to putting on makeup.

2. When you are going to be in the sun for more than two hours, be sure to reapply - sunscreen in only effective for the first 1 1/2 - 2 hrs after application. Apply sunscreen at least 20 min prior to sun exposure.

3. Try to avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 10am-4pm. During those hours, stay in the shade when possible and wear a hat.

4. It only takes one burn as a child to greatly increase your chance of skin cancer in the future - please be sure to cover your little ones in sunscreen every 2 hours when playing outside. Also, little ones should always have a hat on when out between 10am-4pm, covered head-to-toe in sunscreen.

5. Do not ever ever ever use a tanning bed. EVER.

6. Even if you don't necessarily "burn," you are still soaking in damaging UV rays whenever you are in the sun without heavy sunscreen. Plus, UV rays cause all the icky aging signs that, as women especially, we do so much to avoid - and the biggest form of prevention for fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation is simple - it doesn't come in an expensive eye cream or moisturizer - the miracle anti-aging cream is sunscreen!!

7. Sunscreens containing zinc oxcide and titanium dioxide offer the highest protection - always use SPF 30+or higher, and it's best to apply two layers (10 minutes apart) when you will be exposed for more than 2 hours to direct sunlight.

8. The average cotton t-shirts only offers SPF 5, so even though you are wearing clothes outside, you are not actually protected. It's very important to slather on the sunscreen even if skin isn't exposed, if you are planning to be outside for more than 30 min.

Everyone is at risk for melanoma - no matter how dark your skin is, although you might be low-risk, it only takes one irregular freckle or mole - so it is incredibly important to watch any freckles or moles that get bigger, darker or change shape or color. Know your skin and watch for changes.

Going to a dermatologist once a year can save your life! General practitioners might be able to identify an irregular mole; however, they will often overlook so it's very important to see a specialist and go to a board-certified dermo. Melanoma can spread quickly and be fatal, but if caught in the early stages, it is almost 100% cureable - early intervention is key.

For more skin cancer facts, check out The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Happy Weekend!!