Keep your skin safe

Published on July 23, 2021

Keep your skin safe

Who doesn’t love a beautiful summer day filled with outdoor activities, a trip to the pool and, of course, a lovely tan? Bronzed skin has been a sign of a warm, sunny vacation or that post-summer break glow. However, tan skin means damaged skin and over time, damaged skin can inevitably lead to skin cancer.

Dr. Scarlett Aldrich with Plastic Surgery Specialists of Lawrence said sun protection is the easiest method of skin cancer prevention. She said a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or greater should be worn on a daily basis.

“It’s a good idea to put it on daily because even brief outdoor exposures add up in the long run,” Dr. Aldrich said. “If you are outdoors for a prolonged period, don’t forget to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. You can also wear protective clothing including long sleeves, hats and sunglasses. Some clothing is specially made to block UV rays while also keeping you cool in the hot summer. The summer isn’t the only time to protect yourself either. UVB rays are strongest in the summer but UVA rays are consistent year-round. UVA rays can penetrate windows and windshields as well. ”

Another key to avoiding skin damage is to not have prolonged sun exposure during peak UV index times which are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and definitely avoid tanning beds!

Dr. Scarlett Aldrich

Dr. Scarlett Aldrich

Skin cancer, genetics and early detection

“Genetics can also play a role in skin cancer. If you have a family history of melanoma, you are at higher risk of developing it yourself,” Dr. Aldrich said. “There are also familial traits that may be passed down that put you at higher risk including fair skin, freckles, blonde or red hair and light colored eyes.”

Though skin cancer can be removed when discovered early, Dr. Aldrich said that it can still absolutely be deadly, especially melanoma. Melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer and affects thousands of Americans every year.

“Melanoma can be curable if caught in the earliest stages,” she said. “Another rare, but potentially fatal, skin cancer is called merkel cell carcinoma. This is typically a flesh colored or purplish colored nodule on the skin. This is why it is important to monitor and pay attention to your body and skin. The earlier you seek treatment, the better your chances of removal.”

You may be asking, so how will I know when to see a doctor? What should I be checking my skin for? Dr. Aldrich said the ABCDEs of skin cancer are always good to know. The ABCDEs stand for:

  • A-Asymmetry (one half does not match the other)
  • B-Borders (irregular or uneven borders)
  • C-Color (uneven pigmentation, a variety of colors including brown, tan or black)
  • D-Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser or 6mm)
  • E-Evolution (change in size, shape, color or symptoms like itching, bleeding).

“If you have any new or concerning lesions, you should see your doctor right away,” Dr. Aldrich said. “You know your body best, so trust your instincts if something seems off. Always remember you are NEVER too young to develop skin cancer. Although it is more common as we age, skin cancer can certainly affect young people as well. The way you protect your skin now, will influence your likelihood of getting skin cancer later! Ultraviolet (UV) rays can actually damage the DNA of your cells. Your body will try to repair this damage, but with repeated insults, it can’t keep up and the damaged cells may turn into cancer cells.”

Dr. Andrew Meyer

Dr. Andrew Meyer

Skin cancer affects all ages

Dr. Andrew Meyer, an oncologist with the LMH Health Cancer Center, echoed what Dr. Aldrich said. He said skin cancer has no mercy, no matter your age.

“Melanoma is actually quite common in younger adults,” he said. “This can be due to UV light exposure, tanning bed use and intense sun exposure without protection. The two main types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers are considered less aggressive and primarily consist of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. When caught early and removed surgically, outcomes for non-melanoma skin cancers are typically quite good. However, melanoma behaves more aggressively and must be caught early to achieve high cure rates.”

Dr. Meyer said non-melanoma skin cancers can be found anywhere on your body, but often appear in sun exposed areas like the face, hands, arms, legs, scalp and ears. Melanoma can show up on the soles of your feet, under your fingernail beds and the palms of your hands.

“This is why it is important to monitor your skin closely and to check places that may seem strange or be hard to see, such as your hands and your back,” Dr. Meyer said. “If you have concerns, do not be afraid to contact your primary care provider.”

So what happens if you suspect you have one of these types of skin cancer?

Dr. Meyer said the goal for all skin cancers is early detection and surgical removal. Most skin cancers are curable with this approach.

“Skin cancers can become more advanced if they go unnoticed, Dr. Meyer said. “It gets more complicated if it spreads to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. This may require a more extensive surgery and potential post-surgical treatment like radiation or immunotherapy. We offer all of these services at LMH Health. With our excellent multidisciplinary care teams and clinical expertise, skin cancers can be managed very successfully at LMH Health.”

Cancer care near you

The LMH Health Cancer Center is a regional destination for progressive, integrated hematology and oncology care. Dr. Meyer and the whole team at the Cancer Center strive each day to provide the best care to their patients.

“The beauty of the LMH Health Cancer Center is that we are able to partner with our patients and offer personalized cancer care close to where you live and play,” he said. “Our team has extensive experience treating a variety of cancers, including skin cancers, and we have the most up-to-date technology and facilities to provide exceptional care.”

Dr. Aldrich said her number one rule when it comes to skin safety and health is to remember that our skin is our greatest protector from the outside world. You have to protect your skin so it can protect you!

“The sun is not the enemy,” she said. “There are so many health benefits related to sunlight. It fights off depression, helps you sleep better, reduces stress, keeps your bones strong and strengthens your immune system amongst many others. Get outside and enjoy the sun, just do it safely!”

Mother applying sunscreen to son

LMH Health Cancer Center

Did you know the LMH Health Cancer Center is home to physicians trained at NCI-designated cancer centers, as well as multidisciplinary care teams and strong regional partnerships? Our goal is always to put our patients, and their loved ones, first when being treated for their diagnosis. Patients at LMH Health have access to exceptional clinic trials, genetic testing, comprehensive support programs, lifelong survivorship resources and a cancer prevention program.

LMH Health holds official accreditation from the Commission on Cancer (CoC). This accreditation is a testament to the high-quality care that LMH Health offers our cancer patients. We know a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and our providers are here to walk beside you every step of the way.

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Jessica BrewerStory by Jessica Thomas

Jessica is the Social Media & Digital Communications Specialist at LMH Health.