ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Spring and summer mean more time spent outdoors. Those planning on spending time in a park, going for a walk, or hitting the beach should also remember the most common and most preventable forms of cancer: skin cancer.
The primary cause of skin cancer is exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Over 5 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, which is the equivalent of 10 thousand cases every day, Dr. Ash Patel told NEWS10’s Mary Wilson.
Dr. Patel is Chief of Plastic Surgery at Albany Medical Center Hospital. He says that sunburns can increase the risk of skin cancer or melanoma. Just a handful of sunburns over the course of a lifetime increases the risk—“More than five sunburns for the course of their life,” Patel said. “When we think about that small number of sunburns, that really accounts for a lot of people.”
Sunburns from childhood also double the risk for skin cancer.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is wearing sunscreen. Patel recommends using an SPF of 25 or higher and remembering the ears, back of the neck, and lips. It’s also important to reapply sunblock every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
“It’s going to wear out after a couple of hours, so if you’re going to be out in the sun for more than ten minutes, put sunblock on. Reapply it if you’re still out in the sun after a couple of hours,” he said. “A lot of women will wear a brimmed hat that actually will protect them a lot better, give them a lot more shade over their face.”
Other ways to prevent skin cancer include: seeking shade when your shadow is shorter than you are, when the sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; avoiding tanning beds and opting for a self-tanning product; checking your skin regularly for new moles and freckles, or ones that grow, get darker, or have irregular edges, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
When caught early, the long-term prognosis for skin cancer is very good. The survival rate five years after diagnosis is 99% with early detection, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Non-melanoma skin cancer has a low chance of spreading to other parts of the body, Dr. Patel said. “Once it’s removed completely from where it is, that’s generally the only treatment that’s required,” he said.
On the other hand, melanoma is likely to spread, potentially requiring more complicated surgical procedures and closer monitoring. Melanoma can be found almost anywhere, but most often appears on women’s legs.
“Fortunately, if people are going and getting the right kinds of checkups identifying the moles that look like they’ve been changing or could be at risk they are diagnosed very early on so the chance of it being spread is very low at that point,” said Dr. Patel.
Dr. Patel said to keep an eye on any skin changes that may be new and or unusual growths. Like growths that look irregular, different shades (tan, brown, black, red, or blue), don’t look the same all around or are asymmetrical.