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Straightforward Steps to Ward off Skin Cancer
Melanoma is a serious skin cancer that can spread very quickly, but it can also be stopped in its tracks. The key is to find it early, enlist the help of a good medical team, and protect your skin as best you can now and for the rest of your life.
Here are some ways to reduce your chances of developing melanoma, and what you can do to make sure any skin problems don’t grow into life-threatening situations.
Stay out of the Mid-Day Sun
It’s likely impossible to stay away from the sun altogether, and in any case, why would you want to? There’s no reason to shut yourself up in the dark, but you do need to watch when you head outside.
In North America, UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; sunburn is much more likely in this window, and the more sunburns you get, the higher your risk of developing skin cancer.
It’s best to stay out of the sun in the middle of the day (especially in the summer), and since clouds don’t block harmful rays very well, never assume you’re in the clear on cloudy days.
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Choose the Right Sunscreen
Sunscreen brands may seem interchangeable, but they’re not all created equal when it comes to cancer protection. The SPF factor is important: it tells you how well the lotion will block UVB rays. But that’s only a part of the picture.
You need a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against UVB rays (which cause sunburn), and the UVA rays that reach deep into the base layer of your skin — this is where the dangerous cell mutations begin.
Opt for at least 30 SPF, but since there’s currently no rating system for UVA protection, look for avobenzone and ecamsule on the ingredient list to make sure you’re getting the barrier you need.
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Wear Sunscreen All Year Round
An afternoon in the summer sun obviously calls for a good coating of sunscreen, but don’t underestimate the danger through the winter months. Regardless of the air temperature, sunlight can reach through the atmosphere and right to your skin.
Snowy days can be particularly problematic: sunshine can seep through clouds and reflect off the white snow, onto your skin and into your eyes. Make it a point to wear sunglasses and sunscreen on any exposed skin all year, no matter how cold it gets.
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Cover Your Entire Body
Sunscreen is certainly important, but experts insist you need to physically cover up with sun-protective clothing, too. Darker colors and tightly-woven fabrics are a good start, but you can also go one step further and invest in specialty clothing that blocks out everything. The fabric is powerful but light, so it’s still comfortable to wear in hot weather.
Most people aren’t at all interested in wearing gloves on a hot summer’s day, and the same goes for socks. Pay extra attention to your exposed feet and hands, which see lots of sun and tend to lose their protective layer of sunscreen rather quickly. Use a high SPF, broad-spectrum lotion on these areas, and be sure to reapply frequently.
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You can thank your morning cup of coffee for more than the energy boost it brings. Researchers have found that for every cup of coffee you drink each day, you can also enjoy a five percent drop in skin cancer risk. The benefits seem to climb along with the amount you drink, so a few cups over the day could pair well with your skin care routine.
There have also been studies on green tea and its ability to ward off cancer. Experts have found that, by improving your cells’ ability to repair DNA, green tea can indeed lower your chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer (the jury’s still out on how well it may fend off other sorts of cancer).
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Avoid Tanning Beds and Sun Lamps
Tanning salons are on the decline in most places, and that’s a very good thing. If you enjoy sunning yourself under the electric lights now and then, it’s time to kick that habit for good.
Tanning beds and sun lamps give off UV rays just as the sun does, and they have been absolutely linked to the development of melanoma. The risk of skin cancer is particularly high if you begin using tanning beds before the age of 30, but tanning is never a safe hobby.
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Check Your Skin Often
Get more familiar with how your skin looks and feels: any changes in color, shape, texture or sensitivity of a spot or mole can signal a problem. Use the ABCDE rules for spotting melanoma, but don’t diagnose yourself — take any worries straight to your doctor.
Experts suggest melanoma rates could be knocked down substantially if people performed monthly self-exams; if you enlist the help of a partner, you’re even more likely to find an abnormality before it becomes a serious threat to your health. Be sure to check everywhere, even spots that never see the sun.
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See a Dermatologist
You should be able to trust your family doctor and take their advice with confidence. However, you might want to seek a second opinion when it comes to suspicious skin issues.
Researchers have found that, while general practitioners were equipped to diagnose melanomas, dermatologists were more likely to find melanomas in the earliest stages. In turn, patients who were diagnosed by dermatologists were more likely to get quick treatment and survive their cancer.
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Have Your Genes Tested
Some people are at such an increased risk of melanoma that it can be tempting to look for the specific gene mutation that’s to blame. This way, the doctor and patient will know how important it is to take extra preventative measures and monitor the skin more closely to catch problems early.
If there are several cases of melanoma in your family, or a family member has had both melanoma and pancreatic cancer, there’s a chance you may have inherited certain mutated genes that could lead to melanoma.
However, genetic testing is not a perfect solution, and it’s crucial that you meet with a genetic counselor before you decide to whether or not to proceed with the test.
Not all melanomas can be prevented, but many can be eradicated. If you have many moles (at least a few dozen), it might be worth scheduling routine exams with a dermatologist in addition to being vigilant with your self-exams.
Moles can sometimes change into melanomas, so your doctor may wish to remove any that they suspect might change in the near future.