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Enjoy the Great Outdoors Wisely

Simple Steps Can Help Prevent Most Common Type of Cancer

by Mary Beth TeSelle, Sponsored Content
Our region has a lot to offer when it comes to outdoor activities. However, dermatologists remind us to be smart and protect our skin while outside. Protective clothing and sunscreen can help to reduce risk for skin cancer.

The scratch in the throat, the itch in the eyes, the congestion in the nose — these symptoms are all too common in our region right now as springtime allergies hit their peak.

Our region is known to be a great place to enjoy incredible outdoor sports and hobbies year-round — activities like skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, swimming, gardening… But while these activities are great for your health and well-being, if you don’t take steps to protect yourself they can also put you at greater risk for the most common cancer in the U.S. — skin cancer.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, timed to coincide with the beginning of summer which brings increased sun exposure for most people. Dermatologists agree that protecting your skin from the sun is the most important step you can take to reduce your risk for skin cancer.



“Be smart about sun exposure,” says Dr. Matthew Muellenhoff, dermatologist and medical director at SIERRADERM Center for Dermatology in Grass Valley. “You can’t change genetics or skin type, but you can protect yourself from the harm of excessive UV exposure.”

The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The most common types of skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas) are highly treatable if detected early. However, cases of melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, have risen dramatically in recent years.



Preventing yourself from becoming another skin cancer statistic can be as simple as taking a few easy steps every day.

“Wear hats and protective clothing and use sunscreen when enjoying the outdoors,” Dr. Muellenhoff explains. “Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen if you are outside for longer than two hours or if you towel off or wipe off the sunscreen.”

Beyond protection, finding suspicious spots early is key.

“Early detection generally leads to better cure rates, simpler and smaller surgical procedures and less risk for recurrences or complications,” Dr. Muellenhoff says. “More advanced skin cancers sometimes are very difficult to remove and may require non-surgical modalities such as radiation, immunotherapy or chemotherapy.”

Finding a spot early begins with being aware of changes on your own body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could include a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole.

For melanoma, a simple way to remember what to watch for is “ABCDE”:

■ Asymmetrical: Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?

■ Border: Is the border irregular or jagged?

■ Color: Is the color uneven?

■ Diameter: Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?

■ Evolving: Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

“Be aware,” urges Dr. Muellenhoff. “It is important to know your skin, including your spots and moles, so you can pick up when something new shows up. Generally speaking, catching a suspicious spot early will always lead to better overall outcomes if it turns out to be a problem.”

Dr. Muellenhoff sees his role as a dermatologist as one of reinforcing preventative steps and also helping patients understand their own personal risk.

“We can raise awareness in those who have increased skin cancer risk, such as individuals with strong family history, those taking medications that suppress the immune system, or people who burned their skin repeatedly earlier in life,” he explains. “We are here to aid in early detection. Dermatologists can evaluate spots people are not sure about and monitor or regularly screen for suspicious lesions for those at higher risk.”

He encourages everyone to enjoy the great outdoor activities our region has to offer, but to protect themselves and their skin while they’re at it.

“Our skin is an amazing organ! All our life it serves to protect us, so it makes sense we should protect it,” he says. “And if something you are unsure of pops up, get it checked out. You will be pleasantly surprised if it turns out to be nothing but ahead of the game if it is something that needs attention.”

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Although anyone can get skin cancer, there are certain characteristics that put you at greater risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that anyone with the following traits pay extra attention to protecting their skin and watch closely for any changes in their skin.

• Lighter natural skin color

• Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun

• Blue or green eyes

• Blond or red hair

• Certain types and a large number of moles

• Family history of skin cancer

• Personal history of skin cancer

• Older age

 


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