Written by Alexis Dobranowski, Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It forms when the DNA of your skin is harmed, doesn't repair itself and instead mutates to form cancerous cells. Melanomas often look like moles, or develop from existing moles. It can spread from the skin to other parts of the body.
When caught early, melanoma is a highly treatable form of cancer.
Thank you to Dr. Mary McKenzie, dermatologist, and Dr. Teresa Petrella, medical oncologist, for their tips on prevention and screening for melanoma.
This ain't news. But we'll remind you: We should all be wearing daily sunscreen of 30 to 60 SPF on exposed skin. Add this to your morning routine. While getting a sunburn doesn't mean you'll automatically develop skin cancer, a history of sunburns does put you at higher risk.
This means you (no matter your skin tone).
While melanoma is more common in those with fair complexions, red hair or freckling skin, other skin tones and types are not exempt. People with dark complexions should also wear sunscreen daily.
Say "absolutely no" to tanning beds.
No good can come of spending time in a tanning bed. Just don't do it. The law in Ontario says teens under 18 aren't allowed. But adults shouldn't use tanning beds either. According to SkinCancer.org, people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 per cent. Other studies have found that the risk of melanoma goes up with the hours/sessions/years spent using tanning beds. (More on that here.)
Check yourself and your partner/friend/family members.
You (and sunscreen!) are your best defense against melanoma. Perform self-screening each month. Remember, not all melanoma follow these ABCDEs to a T. So check in with your doctor or dermatologist regularly if you have moles.
Here's what you are looking for, from Melanoma.org. If you have moles or lesions with any of these factors, make an appointment with your family doctor or dermatologist. Look for moles or lesions on the skin that are:
A - Asymmetrical in shape. (This means they aren't an even circle or oval.)
B - Border. Non-cancerous moles tend to have smooth edges. Melanoma lesions often have irregular edges.
C - Colour. A spot that has more than one colour (brown, black, red, tan) or colour that isn't evenly distributed.
D - Diameter. Is the mole wider than six millimeters? (about the size of a pencil eraser)
And most important of all:
E - Evolution. If and how your moles change can be the most important thing to consider when screening yourself for melanoma. If your moles look different in colour, size or shape, call your doctor.
Not just moles.
There are other types of skin cancers that don't look like moles. Wounds that won't heal; hard, pink acne-like lesions on your face that don't go away -- these could be suspicious. Make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist if you have anything like this on your skin.
Melanoma caught early has an excellent prognosis -- keep an eye on your skin and your family members' and talk to your doctor if you see changes.
Read more about cancer prevention from Sunnybrook experts at health.sunnybrook.ca
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Sunscreens come in two forms: Physical sunscreens, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are minerals that sit on the skin's surface and reflect the sun's rays like tiny mirrors. Chemical sunscreens, such as avobenzone and oxybenzone, work like little sponges to absorb and neutralize solar energy. Physical blockers can deflect both types of rays: UVA and UVB. Chemical ingredients may defend against only one or the other. Look for broad spectrum on the label to make sure the product you use covers both. There are pros and cons with each form. While physical blockers very rarely cause an allergic reaction, a small percentage of the population is allergic to avobenzone or oxybenzone, according to Darrell Rigel, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center. "The main problem with physical sunscreens is that they tend to be less water-resistant," Rigel says. "You put them on and go in the pool or sweat, and they can just run off." If you're the sporty type, select a chemical sunscreen, which is more likely formulated to resist water and perspiration. No matter what kind you end up choosing, "you need at least an SPF 30 every day," says Rigel. Making Sure Your Sunscreen Works If dermatologists could tell you one thing about the way you apply sunscreen, it's this: You're skimping. To shield your face and body adequately when you're outdoors, experts say you need a full ounce of sunscreen (equivalent to a shot glass). And you need to reapply that amount every two hours -- more often if you're getting wet. (Water-resistant sunscreens are rated for 40 or 80 minutes -- check the label. After that, it's time for another coat.) So even if you're spending only a long weekend in Bermuda, a couple of TSA-approved bottles won't cut it. When your day is spent mostly indoors, it's OK to say "one (coat) and done." "You still need an SPF 30, but you can put it on in the morning and not reapply unless you go out for errands," says Rigel.
If you've got skin, the following applies to you. There are two types of skin cancer. Nonmelanoma -- basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma -- usually looks like a little pimple or sore, may also bleed and doesn't go away after a few weeks. "Anything that's bleeding, scabbing, crusting and not healing needs to be checked by a dermatologist," says Lisa Chipps, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Melanoma is a potentially deadly form that often shows up as an irregular mole. Follow the ABCDE guide. If your spot fits any of the descriptions below, get yourself to a dermatologist, stat. Asymmetry: one side is different from the other Borders: scalloped or irregular edges Color: multiple shades instead of a uniform brown hue Diameter: larger than a pencil eraser Evolving: anything that changes in size, shape or color over time Special Alert Attention, darker-skinned women: You are more susceptible to a specific form of melanoma that tends to develop on palms and soles, says Carlos Charles, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. It may also appear as a linear pigmented band on the nail bed, so check those areas regularly.
Don't leave the house this summer without one of these ten hardworking bodyguards. 1. Clarins UV Plus Anti-Pollution Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $42; Clarins.com 2. SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair SPF 50, $75; SkinMedica.com 3. Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Cream SPF 50+, $36; Shiseido.com 4. Paula's Choice Resist Anti-Aging Lip Gloss SPF 40, $18; PaulasChoice.com 5. SkinCeuticals Physical Matte UV Defense SPF 50, $34; Skinceuticals.com 6. L'Oréal Paris Advanced Suncare Invisible Protect Clear Finish Spray SPF 50, $11; drugstores 7. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Cooling Water-Lotion Sunscreen SPF 60, $36; drugstores 8. Coppertone Ultra Guard AccuSpray Sunscreen SPF 30, $10; drugstores 9. Avène Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+, $24; drugstores 10. Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, $10.50; drugstores
What's the best sunscreen? "The one you'll wear every day -- as long as it's broad spectrum and at least SPF 30," says Chipps. "You have to like the texture, or you aren't going to use it. It's a personal preference, and finding yours may take some trial and error." Won't sunscreen make my oily skin break out? It's not the sunscreen agents causing your pimples; it's the formula, says Rigel. If blocked pores are a problem, look for OIL-FREE or NONCOMEDOGENIC on the label. Is the SPF in my makeup enough? That would be a resounding no, say dermatologists. "If you wear a thick coat of foundation all over your face, then maybe," says Chipps. "But most people don't -- they apply a thin layer and put on only a little extra if they're covering a blemish." If you want to thwart the rays, first smooth on a lightweight sunscreen, then put on your makeup.
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