Dana-Farber experts offer tips for protection from the sun
Stephen Hodi, MD, recommends checking your sunscreen bottle for an expiration date.
As the weather grows warmer, people's thoughts turn to outdoor
activities and enjoying the sun. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute physicians
and nurses encourage people to avoid the dangers of overexposure to the
sun when they are outside, whether they are spending a day at the beach
or a few hours working in their yard.
Sunscreen is an important first line of protection against sun
exposure, but experts warn that some of the ingredients can lose their
effectiveness over time. Bottles that have been sitting on the shelf for
more than a year may not provide adequate protection.
"Remember to look at the expiration date on the bottle of sun block,"
explained Stephen Hodi, MD, clinical director of the Melanoma Program
at Dana-Farber. "In general, if your sunscreen does not have an
expiration date, we recommend that you change your bottle of sun block
Prevention and early detection are critical to reducing the dangers of skin cancer and melanoma.
"Warm weather is a great motivator for people to get outside and reap the health benefits of being more active," said Hodi.
"At the same time, it is important that people protect themselves
from the sun and make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of skin
cancer and melanoma to greatly reduce their risk of developing these
preventable but dangerous diseases."
Along with replacing sunscreen yearly, here are other sun safety tips to remember:
- Apply a sun block with a rating of SPF 15 or higher;
- Reapply sun block every two hours, and immediately after swimming or heavy perspiration;
- Provide additional protection by wearing a broad rimmed hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts and pants; and
- Avoid excessive exposure to the sun, especially during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than one million
Americans are diagnosed with basal cell or squamous cell cancers each
year, and more than 60,000 will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most
serious form of skin cancer. Melanoma accounts for more than 8,400
cancer deaths in the United States each year.
Melanoma can be hereditary; people with family members who have had
melanoma are at a higher risk of developing the disease. Certain types
of moles, excessive sun exposure and sunburns can also increase a
person's risk of developing not only melanoma but other skin cancers as
Skin cancers present a range of symptoms. Basal cell carcinomas
usually appear as flat, firm, pale areas or as small, raised, pink or
red waxy areas. Squamous cell cancer may appear as lumps with rough
surfaces or as flat, red patches that grow slowly. Melanoma symptoms
include changes on the skin, including new spots or moles or existing
spots or moles that change in shape, size and color.
Recognizing changes on the skin is key for early detection and
treatment of skin cancers. The American Cancer Society recommends using
the ABCD rule to help determine when a skin or mole change should be
seen by a physician:
- A for asymmetry: one half is differently shaped than the other
- B for border irregularity: jagged or blurred edges
- C for color: the pigmentation may not be consistent
- D for diameter: moles greater than six millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser)
People who experience any of these symptoms should notify their
physician immediately. Some skin cancers can be treated in a physician's
office; malignant melanoma may involve more complex care, including
surgery and radiation therapy.
For more information about skin cancer, visit