May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and doctors at Atrium Health Navicent want to remind you to be sun-safe when planning summer activities. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, an invisible type of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps, can lead to skin cancer, as UV rays are especially damaging to skin cells.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States with 4.3 million adults treated for skin cancer annually. One in 5 people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
“Skin cancer risk increases with age and the leading risk is sun exposure, especially sun exposure when you were younger. If you have had three blistering sunburns at any time during your life, you face an increased risk for skin cancer,” said Dr. Paul Dale, chief of surgical oncology for Atrium Health Navicent and medical director for the Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center.
Atrium Health Navicent physicians recommend individuals take the following preventative steps to protect their skin from too much UV exposure and to lower skin cancer risk:
Stay in the shade: Seek shade as much as possible, under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter.
Use sunscreen: Sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher should be applied in a thick layer on all exposed skin. The higher the SPF, the more protection the sunscreen offers. Be sure to reapply at least every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off. “Apply sunscreen frequently, especially if you’re working outside and sweating, or swimming in a pool. If you don’t apply it frequently, it won’t be as effective,” Dale said. The use of sunscreen is not recommended for babies under 6 months old. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that infants be dressed in protective clothing and kept in the shade.
Wear protective clothing: Wear a hat that has a brim that shades your face, ears and the back of your neck. If you wear a baseball cap, protect your ears and the back of your neck with clothing, sunscreen, or by staying in the shade. “Some of the newer outdoor clothing has SPF built into it. If you’re out and about, at the beach, or outside working in the yard, wear that SPF in your clothing. It’s just as good as putting on sunblock,” Dale said.
Wear sunglasses: Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Wrap-around styles block UV rays from coming in from the side. “Most people don’t know that it’s possible to get melanoma of the eyes. That’s why wearing sunglasses is important, especially during the brightest parts of the day,” he said.
Don’t be fooled by skin color: Skin cancer can affect everyone, regardless of skin color. People with lighter skin pigmentation are much more likely to have their skin damaged by UV rays, but darker-skinned people also can be affected. Darker skin has more melanin than lighter skin. Melanin helps block damaging UV rays up to a point, which is why lighter-skinned people get sunburns more easily than darker-skinned people.
Consult your doctor: Always see the doctor whenever you have concerns about a spot on your skin. “The earlier we identify cancer, the better we can treat it. So, if you’re concerned about a mole or another spot on your skin, see your primary care doctor. Moles that itch or change shape, size, or color should be examined as soon as possible,” Dale said.
If you’ve had a spot removed because of concerns for skin cancer, Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center offers testing that not only determines the scope of skin cancer, but also the likelihood of reoccurrence throughout your body.
Castle testing is a new test for melanoma and other skin cancers. It helps doctors grade the cancers by their genetic makeup.
“At one time, cancers were graded by how deep they were in the skin. With this new test, we find that some cancers that are deep may not be aggressive, and some that are not as deep are actually aggressive,” Dale said. “If a patient has a spot removed and it turns out to be melanoma, we can order this test to help doctors determine how aggressive they need to be in a patient’s treatment and follow-up.”
Another test, Signatera, detects tumor-specific DNA in the patient’s blood, thus detecting recurrence months prior to it showing up on PET or CT scans. It’s used for many types of cancer.
“If a patient has been diagnosed with cancer, we can go back and analyze the patient’s tumor and find the common genetic abnormalities in the DNA of tumor. Then, we look for those abnormalities in the patient’s blood. If we see evidence of the tumor in the blood, it’s an early indicator that the patient should have more therapy. Basically, it aids in the very early detection of cancer metastasis,” he said.
In addition to both the Castle and Signatera specialized testing, Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center offers a range of services that encompasses all aspects of cancer care, from screening and diagnosis, through treatment and into survivorship. The Cancer Center is accredited by the Commission on Cancer with Commendation – Gold Level.
“Many skin cancers are superficial and can be treated in a doctor’s office. But for the ones that are deep, patients benefit from a cancer care team that can look at it from every point of view — from diagnosis, treatment with oncology specialists, follow up and even our survivorship clinic. We have a full complement care team that can look at your individual case and determine the best way to treat you to make sure you live your best life,” Dale said.
For more information about Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center, call (478) 633-3000. To find a doctor, visit www.NavicentHealth.org and click “Find A Doctor.”