As the warmer days of summer near, Americans begin happily spending more time outdoors. Whether having a picnic, playing sports, going for a long walk or just enjoying the sunshine, many of our families’ activities – and memorable moments – will take place outside. But it’s important that we don’t forget about our health during the summer months. Not only does the season bring longer days and higher temperatures, it also brings a greater risk of melanoma, the fastest growing cancer in the United States.
It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re having fun in the sun. A morning hike can easily lead to an afternoon swim and then an evening barbeque. Unfortunately, all of that time outdoors can result in irreversible skin damage caused by the sun’s rays. Across the U.S., approximately one in five people will get skin cancer in his or her lifetime, the most dangerous form of which is melanoma.
Melanoma is often caused by intense, occasional UV exposure that frequently leads to sunburn, and if not treated early, melanoma can cause malignant tumors. Unfortunately, as few as 48 percent of melanomas in African Americans are diagnosed at an early stage, compared to 84 percent in Caucasians, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. When melanoma goes undetected, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, making it hard to treat. So although Caucasians are the primary victims of melanoma, the cancer is more fatal for those in the African American community: The overall melanoma survival rate for African Americans is only 77 percent, versus 91 percent for Caucasians.
Recognizing the warning signs of melanoma is vital. That’s why physicians recommend regular head-to-toe self-examinations for any skin changes. According to the American Melanoma Foundation, a sudden or continuous change in the appearance of a mole is a sign that you should see your doctor. To help you know what to look for, remember the ABCD rule:
• Asymmetry – one half of the mole is different
• Borders – edges of the mole are irregular or uneven
• Color – uneven color, or shades of brown, tan, or black
• Diameter – the mole is over 6 millimeters in diameter
The good news is that there are easy steps we can take to prevent melanoma before it starts. Protection from the sun is the single greatest way to prevent melanoma. When spending time outdoors, make sure you wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, and reapply every two hours. During the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., try to seek the shade when possible.
America’s pharmaceutical companies are helping to lead the fight against skin cancer by developing medicines that treat and eliminate melanoma, giving hope to the millions of patients now confronting the effects of years-old sun damage. Last year, PhRMA released its Medicines in Development for Skin Diseases report, which identified 63 medicines in development for melanoma.
As we give a warm welcome to the summer months and the fun they bring, it’s critical that we recognize the importance of taking care of our skin. Enjoy the great outdoors, but remember to protect yourself and your loved ones from the sun’s dangers.
Larry Lucas is a retired vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).