Dana-Farber experts offer tips to protect yourself in the sun
As the weather grows warmer, people's thoughts turn to outdoor
activities and enjoying the sunshine. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
physicians and nurses are encouraging people, when they are outside,
whether they are spending a day at the beach or a few hours working in
their yard, to be aware of the dangers of overexposure to the sun and to
practice sun safety.
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," explained Stephen Hodi, MD,
clinical director of the Melanoma Program at Dana-Farber. "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."
To stay sun safe, remember to think about:
- Applying a sun block with a rating of SPF 15 or higher
- Reapplying sun block every two hours, and immediately after swimming or heavy perspiration
- Providing additional protection by wearing a broad rimmed hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts and pants
- Avoiding excessive exposure to the sun, especially during the peak hours of 10 am and 4 pm
Because sunscreen contains ingredients that lose potency over time,
bottles that have been sitting on the shelf for more than a year may not
provide adequate protection.
"People need to remember to look at the expiration date on their
bottle of sun block," explained Hodi. "In general, we recommend that you
change your bottle of sun block yearly."
According to the American Cancer Society, more than an estimated one
million Americans will be diagnosed with basal cell or squamous cell
cancers this year, and more than 60,000 will be diagnosed with the most
serious form of skin cancer — melanoma. More than 8,400 deaths in the
United States this year will be due to a form of skin cancer.
Melanoma can be hereditary; people with family members who have had
melanoma are at a higher risk for melanoma. People who have had melanoma
and moles are at greater risk of developing the disease. Excessive sun
exposure and sunburns increase a person's risk of developing not only
melanoma but other skin cancers as well.
Skin cancers present a range of symptoms. Melanoma symptoms include
changes on the skin, including new spots or moles or existing spots or
moles that change in shape, size and color. 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.
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 removed by excising the
affected areas; malignant melanoma may involve removing the affected
area, removing lymph nodes near the area and may also include radiation
For more information about skin cancer, go to the Dana-Farber Web site, www.dana-farber.org/skin-cancer.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org)
is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is
among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States.
It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center
(DF/HCC), a designated comprehensive cancer center by the National