May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

By Chikoti Wheat, M.D. F.A.A.D.

Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the United States — one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

During medical school, I was surprised to learn how many of my colleagues had never seen a dermatologist for a skin exam. Yet most of them recalled spending countless hours under the sun, often resulting in sunburns. What they did not realize is that the ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted from the sun were the driving force behind photoaging and developing skin cancer.

The rays are divided into two categories: UVA and UVB. While UVA rays penetrate window glass and lead to photodamage and photoaging, UVB rays are blocked by window glass yet are the main cause of sunburns and skin cancer. Once UVB rays penetrate the skin, molecular errors occurring at the DNA level build up over time leading to skin cancer — most commonly, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas.

In order to help with sun safety, here are a few guidelines to help you this summer.

  1. Avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of UVB rays (10am-4pm).
  2. Utilize sun-protective clothing, including clothing with ultraviolet protective factor that limits the amount of UV radiation reaching the skin, like wide brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  3. Be generous with your sunscreen application. It is important to use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Sunscreens capable of protecting against both will usually contain the ingredients titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Apply one ounce of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outdoors. When outdoors, reapply every two hours or immediately after any water exposure.
  4. Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds emit a large amount of UVA radiation, which lead to development of skin cancer, including melanoma.
  5. See your local dermatologist once a year for a skin cancer screening exam. Ask questions. Get educated. Know your skin. It is never too late to start!

Chikoti Wheat, M.D. F.A.A.D. is a board-certified dermatologist with Anne Arundel Dermatology and a member of CA’s Medical Advisory Board.

For more information, visit AAD.org/public/spot-skin-cancer or SkinCancer.org.