Featuring Dr. Chong Yun
USMD Carrollton, Texas
If you are of the generation that slathered baby oil all over to get the perfect tan, then you need the information in this article. Why? According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans develop skin cancer by age 70. If you’ve experienced five or more sunburns in your lifetime, your risk for contracting melanoma doubles.
Melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers because it tends to metastasize quickly, according to Dr. Chong Yun with the USMD Carrollton clinic. The other two types of skin cancer are squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas. All three are primarily caused by exposure to harmful UV rays which emanate from the sun.
Dr. Yun recommends getting a skin cancer screening from either your primary care physician or dermatologist at least once a year, and offers this easy-to-remember mnemonic device to determine whether you should visit a doctor for possible melanoma:
A – Asymmetry: Do you have a growth/lesion/mole that appears asymmetric? Dr. Yun says, “If you could fold it over and it doesn’t match the other side, it’s asymmetric and should be examined.”
B – Border: The spot’s border is poorly defined, scalloped or irregular
C – Color: The spot is not uniform in color or has variations of color
D – Diameter: Most melanomas are usually about the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm) when diagnosed
E – Evolving: The spot changes size, shape or color
Dr. Yun says the differences between squamous and basal cell carcinomas can be very subtle. She adds that if the spot scabs and bleeds repeatedly, it is a sign to be screened. With basal cell carcinoma in particular, Dr. Yun advises spots are typically found on the nose and earlobe.
We know by now that sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer, but smoking cigarettes, genetics and aging also increase your risk for contracting the disease.
Older individuals are more prone to skin cancer because as Dr. Yun explains, skin becomes thinner and more fragile as we age. Also, hair often becomes thinner, allowing sun exposure on parts of the scalp that were previously protected. The CDC reports that more than two-thirds of all diagnosed melanomas in the United States are in adults aged 55 and older.
Sunscreen is your best friend when it comes to preventing skin cancer. Thankfully, Dr. Yun says the choices have improved dramatically. She explains there are two types of sunscreens – physical, which acts as a block, and chemical, which absorbs rays and disperses heat.
Physical sunscreens work immediately upon application to the skin. Look for zinc and titanium as key ingredients in these sunscreens. With chemical sunscreens, the instructions will tell you to wait 10-15 minutes before getting in the sun after application. All of them work well when used properly. Dr. Yun recommends using a sunscreen that has at least a 30 SPF (Sun Protection Factor.)
Importantly, it is not “one and done” with any sunscreen. “You must reapply every two hours or so,” says Dr. Yun. “This is especially important if you’re spending the day at an amusement park or at the beach.” Plus, reapplication is necessary regardless of which type of sunscreen you use.
It is notable, as well, that dangerous UV rays exist even in cloudy weather, and they reflect off water, concrete, sand and snow. Therefore, Dr. Yun highly recommends wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved rash guards, as well as good sunglasses that block UV rays.
The good news is when detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%. You can be your own best advocate by routinely checking your skin, head to toe, for changes that may require a doctor visit.