Free Skin Cancer Screening and Melanoma Monday

Cynthia Bailey, MD|May 2, 2016

Screening Post_MainMay 2nd is Melanoma Monday!  To kick it off, we are doing a FREE skin cancer screening this week at Sonoma West Medical Center (formerly Palm Drive Hospital). If you are local, come down and join us! If not, let the American Academy of Dermatology help you find a screening near you by using their free SpotMe® skin cancer screening map. Sunny Weather Free Skin Cancer ScreeningHere in Sonoma County, Dr. Hayes and I will be doing a free, first come, first serve Skin Cancer Screening on:

Tuesday, May 3rd from 8am-11am at Sonoma West Medical Center in Sebastopol

Come on down and join in the fun! Let us help provide the reality check we all need before gorgeous summer weather lures us into the sun for all-day outdoor activities.  Don't fall into the trap of thinking that 'just a little sun' is OK!

What you need to know right now about sun damage to your skin; the 'How, What and Why' . We know with certainty that any sun exposure increases your risk of developing skin cancer.  (That risk also applies to your kids and the people you love, so don't be shy about spreading the word!)  Any tan means UV rays have caused skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. If that’s not scary, or you don't think it applies to you, here is another reality check: That same sun exposure also causes most of the skin aging we don’t like, including wrinkles, skin thinning and age spots that can look like cancer. Since age spots are difficult to distinguish from cancer, people with lots of age spots have a harder time picking out the skin cancer from all the other spots on their skin. This can be dangerous because it can mean a delay in treatment; a tragedy because skin cancer is not that hard to cure when it's caught early. The opposite is also true; when skin cancer has been growing for a while, it can be a deadly mess. Are you aware of what’s on your skin right now and what your risk of cancer is from past damage? Do you know if you were born with the genes that give you a naturally higher risk of skin cancer? Some Skin Cancer Facts

  • Fair skinned people have a higher risk of skin cancer.
  • People with a lot of moles have a higher risk of skin cancer.
  • If a blood relative has had melanoma or skin cancer you have a higher risk of skin cancer.
  • If you have had blistering sunburns you are at higher risk of skin cancer.
  • If you have a lot of sun exposure in your lifetime you are at greater risk of skin cancer.
  • Even people born with a lot of pigment in their skin are at risk of skin cancer. (Many believe they are low risk, which sadly means their cancers are often found at more advanced stages and are harder to cure.)

The combination of sun and unprotected human skin creates trouble, so take the time to learn how to enjoy the outdoors while protecting against sun damage. Here's how how to enjoy the outdoors all you want while still protecting your skin:

  1. Cover up. Wear sun protective clothing, including a good sun hat. (The hat should include a 3 to 5 inch deep, full circumference brim and should cover your scalp as well.)
  2. Seek the shade. Be that smart person who asks for the restaurant patio table located in the shade, or the one who picnics and naps in the park under the shade of the trees. (Who wants to be one of those sweaty people sitting in the blisteringly hot direct sun anyway???)
  3. Wear the right sunscreen on all exposed skin AND know how often to reapply it. You need a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 or higher that is applied 15 minutes prior to expected exposure. It's equally important to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours it's supposed to be protecting you and to use a water resistant product if your plans include getting wet or sweaty.

Just how bad IS a tan or a sunburn for your skin? Know that ANY tan is indication that damage HAS BEEN DONE. Know that blistering sunburns are an indicator of extreme damage. In fact, a history that includes just 5 or more blistering burns in your life increases your melanoma risk a staggering 80%! Why does the sun feel so good in the spring and why is a tan still so tempting? How can something so bad feel so good? When it comes to the sun, the truth mimics so many other areas of our lives. Just because something feels good doesn't make it a good choice. Science has proven time and time again just how damaging the sun can be, so it's important to get your head in the game and start making choices that let you enjoy the sun while protecting your most valuable organ. Still want 'a little color' to your skin? There are several tricks that don't involve the sun's damaging rays.

  1. Eat veggies with beta carotene, your skin will quickly take on a warm golden glow.
  2. Use self-tanner, some of which work quite nicely. Learn how to apply it artistically in my time-honored post on the art of self tanning.
  3. Consider changing your mindset regarding what is attractive. A tan is actually less attractive to the human eye than the warm golden glow of beta carotene infused skin. Yep, we live in a small historic blip in time when aesthetic considerations make a tan tempting. For eons, tans were considered NOT attractive and people went to great lengths to protect against them. History will look back at this era with regret; we already do and our tastes are evolving.

Think you can outsmart nature by going tanning bed tanning? Tanning bed tans give your skin NO increased protection from sun damage. It's a truth many choose to argue against but it's truth nonetheless. Tanning beds DO NOT protect your skin from sun damage. Tanning bed's UV rays do not increase melanin content in your skin, they just spread it around. Let me explain.  Under normal circumstances, melanin is clumped into granules in your skin. Tanning bed rays spread those clumps around, sort of like taking a pile of dirt you just swept up and spreading it around again with a mop. This spread does NOT change your sun tolerance. What it DOES is cause skin damage that will lead to lots of wrinkles and odd looking tanning bed freckles in short order. The use of tanning beds also greatly increases your risk of melanoma. In fact, tanning beds are probably a major cause of increases in melanoma in young women. I’ve seen way too many young women diagnosed with skin cancer in this situation. It's why the US Government and the World Health Organization has listed UV rays from tanning beds as carcinogenic and why some states are banning them. Still hard to resist wanting a tan?  I feel your pain! I was a sun tanning addicted teen and I'm paying for it now. I'm here to tell you, 'just don't do it'. Don’t beat yourself up for the past but stop the cycle now and be smart about the sun. Go shopping for sun protective clothing and a great sun hat or root through your closet to find great breezy pants, light-weight shirts and hats you may have forgotten about or overlooked. You can wash SunGuard into fabric to increase its sun protection or you can shop at Coolibar for great sun protecting cover garments. Get ready for the sun! This is great time do a self-skin check or see your dermatologist to be sure your spots are all OK. What do spots look like that are worrisome for skin cancer on your skin? We all have our unique pattern of moles, freckles and spots. Take the time to learn what yours are. A dermatologist is a great partner when it comes to helping you learn what to look for;  ask them to teach you. If you are local to our Sebastapol, California office, come in and let Dr. Altemus or Dr. Hayes teach you! They love to teach and you'll learn from them how to take good care of your skin.

  • Learn how to look your skin over well.
  • Learn what we, as dermatologist’s want you to look for and what spots are worrisome enough they should drive you to make an appointment with a doctor with a trained eye.

It's important to do self-skin exams because when we detect cancer early it’s a minor inconvenience in your life. However, when skin cancer is missed and it grows, it's a mess and potentially deadly. Some of the skin changes you want to watch for on your skin cancer exam:

  1. Do you have a sore that won’t heal? Remember that cancers can be fragile and bleed.
  2. Is there a new spot that doesn’t match your others? Is that spot growing or changing or acting strange?
  3. Did a new 'mole' show up? We grow our moles mostly in our teens, 20s and 30s. Any new mole after those years is suspect and should be checked.
  4. Is there a change in an existing mole? Growing, itching, and even vanishing can indicate melanoma. Better to be safe and get it checked.
  5. Do you know your mole A,B,C,Ds?
    1. for asymmetry
    2. for border that is irregular
    3. for colors that are odd, irregular or variegated
    4. for diameter bigger than a pencil eraser
    5. for evolution and change

DB-Quote2When in doubt seek us out; get a trained eye - when we catch skin cancer early it’s easy to fix!!

Love the topic as much as I do and want more?

Click here for my short radio interview with KSRO radio this Friday morning during The Drive .  

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