By Ross Levy, MD, FADD
Chief of the Division of Dermatology at Northern Westchester Hospital
MOUNT KISCO – As we head into summer, it’s time to think about how to protect yourself from exposure to the sun, the primary cause of most skin cancers.
According to Ross Levy, MD, FADD, Chief of the Division of Dermatology at Northern Westchester Hospital; Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell; Chair, Dermatology at CareMount Medical; and, Associate Professor of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, sunlight contains ultraviolet rays that trigger changes in the DNA of skin cells. Most of the time the body’s immune system tracks down these mutations and repairs them, but occasionally the damage is missed and skin cancer takes hold. The more sun you are exposed to, the greater your risk.
“There’s no such thing as a healthy tan,” says Dr. Levy. “Tanning is a sign of skin damage. While we tend to worry most about sunburn during the summer, it’s important to protect yourself year-round. Be especially wary any time you are traveling to higher altitudes. For every 1,000 feet increase in elevation, UV exposure increases by 10 percent. Be aware that it’s possible to get a sunburn in the winter because snow reflects the sun.”
The American Cancer Society reports rising rates of melanoma over the past 30 years. The risk of melanoma increases with age (the average age of diagnosis is 63), but it is also one of the most common cancers in young adults. Dr. Levy offers the following tips for sun protection:
Wear the right stuff:
Clothing is the first line of defense against the sun’s damaging rays. Wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and a wide-brimmed hat offers the best protection. At the pool or beach, look for a swim shirt that is rated for sun protection.
Limit your exposure:
Limit time outdoors when the sun is directly overhead and its rays are strongest, between 10am and 2pm.
Protect exposed areas:
Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen or reapply it often enough. Use a broad spectrum sun screen, which blocks out UVA and UVB rays, both of which can damage skin. SPF 50 or higher sunscreen that should be liberally applied to the face, ears, neck, hands, legs and any exposed skin 15 minutes before going out doors. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming, since even water-resistant sunscreens wash off.
Slip! Slop! Slap! Wrap:
This is an easy recommendation from The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention to help people stay safe in the sun: Slip on a shirt; Slop on plenty of broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen; Slap on a wide-brimmed hat; and Wrap on sunglasses.
Know Your ABCs…:
Be aware of moles that could be a sign of skin cancer. The National Cancer of Institute uses the ABCDE rule to help people identify the features of early melanoma:
· Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other half.
· Border that is irregular: The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
· Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.
· Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than 6 millimeters wide (about 1/4 inch wide).
· Evolving: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months. Melanomas can vary greatly in how they look. Many show all of the ABCDE features. However, some may show only one or two of the ABCDE features.
Want to learn more? Dr. Levy will lead a Wellness Wednesday audio-based program on ‘Summer Skin Health’ offered by Northern Westchester Hospital and the Center for Healthy Living. July 28 from 11:00-11:30am, by phone. Register at: www.nwhwellnesswednesdays.eventbrite.com or dial 1-929-436-2866 to join the program. When prompted, enter the Webinar ID 994 8502 3594, followed by the # sign. You will hear music until the program starts.