As summer approaches, we need to do our best to keep our skin healthy. That means protecting it from harmful ultraviolet, or UV, radiation. If your skin gets too much sun, it begins to be damaged, sometimes leading to unwanted spots on the skin. In some cases, these spots can be cancerous.
There are two main groups of skin cancer: nonmelanoma cancer, like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma cancers. Generally, nonmelanoma cancers are more common and less dangers, whereas melanoma cancers are less common and more serious. According to Mark Leyngold, M.D., a plastic surgeon at the UF Health Plastic Surgery and Aesthetics Center, the most common skin cancer he sees is basal cell carcinoma, which is commonly found on the face, head and neck. The reason is because the face is always exposed to the sun, while the rest of our body typically has clothing to protect us from UV damage.
“It is unrealistic to avoid the sun,” Leyngold said. “But if you are going to be out in the sun, make sure you apply sunblock with an SPF of at least 30. That will give you protection against UV and it will block over 90% of those rays.”
When in the sun, experts strongly recommend applying facial and body sunblock to exposed areas every two hours, especially if you are doing something active. According to Leyngold, skin cancer takes years for it to develop, so it doesn’t happen overnight.
There are other factors to think about when protecting yourself from the sun, like your skin type and your environment. People with a lighter skin tone have less melanin in their skin; therefore they have less protection against UV rays. People also need to be aware of the sunlight reflecting off surfaces. For example, at the beach the sun can reflect off the sand or water, causing you to burn even if you are under a shade.
Maria Longo, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist at UF Health Dermatology, suggests avoiding excessive sun exposure during the peak hours of the sun, around noon to 4 p.m. If you can feel the heat from the sun beating down on you, she said, you are at risk of getting a sunburn. It is much better to avoid that or wear clothing that will protect your skin.
“Being outdoors is great and getting the sun is a healthy activity, but avoid sunburns,” Longo said. Repeated sunburns are the ones that trigger the development of melanoma.
Sun protection is important to prevent skin cancer, but there are some types of melanoma that people with darker skin need to be aware of as they can develop on unusual sites such as the bottom of feet or the nails.
It is always important to check your body for any lesions or moles that are new or appear different. Check and detect skin cancer by doing the ABCDE check:
- The first step is to look at the asymmetry of the lesion, meaning that one half of it does not match the other.
- Then, Longo looks at the borders; they can look irregular and uneven.
- Next, be aware of the color. Skin cancer could appear in different shades like brown, tan or black.
- Then, be aware of the diameter. Normally, if a spot is larger than 6 millimeters, it is a sign that something can be wrong.
- The last and most important one to be aware of is evolution, which is a change in the mole or lesion.
All of these are signs of potential skin cancer. If you notice the lesion becoming itchy, painful or raised or it is spreading, then it is important to get it looked at by a dermatologist.
At UF Health, we offer nonsurgical and surgical treatments for skin cancer. Certain creams can be used to treat earlier, less aggressive or precancerous lesions. However, they only have a limited efficacy, as more aggressive types of cancers should be treated with surgery, which sometimes requires reconstruction.
According to Leyngold, the typical surgical approach to skin cancer is complete excision. On rare occasions, some patients may not be surgical candidates and require topical chemotherapy or radiation. Surgical options at UF Health include Mohs micrographic surgery, a skin-sparing technique usually used in cosmetic areas such as the eyelid, nose or cheek, where every millimeter counts.
For people who have already had skin cancer, take extra caution when outdoors in the sun. Previously having skin cancer puts people at a high risk of getting it again. Be extra vigilant about staying out of the sun, use sunscreen and seek care when noticing a specific lesion and scheduling annual exams with a dermatologist.
For more information on our dermatology services, visit our website or make an appointment with one of our dermatologists at 352.594.1500.