Healthy Living: The # 1 mistake people make before heading out into the sun

With summer in full swing, many of us are looking for ways to soak in some rays.  Experts say it only takes 10 to 15 minutes in the sun before you can start burning.

Dr. Paul Nghiem with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and UW Dermatology says the biggest mistake people make before heading out into the sun is not being prepared.  He says there are 4 main ways to protect your skin...

  1. Avoid the middle part of the day when the sun's rays are the hottest
  2. Wear some kind of hat or clothing to protect your skin.
  3. Seek out shade when you can.
  4. Always put on sunscreen.

"Early detection for all the skin cancers is the difference between easy, cure with a little bit of surgery and not," said Dr. Nghiem.

He says the most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma with several million cases in the United States each year.  It's usually pink and dome shaped and also may bleed easily.  Basal cell carcinoma can be typically be treated effectively with surgery and that usually happens in the doctors office, according to Nghiem.

Another type of skin cancer that is more dangerous is merkel cell carcinoma. It's more rare and also more deadly.  Dr. Nghiem says merkel cell carcinoma kills one out of every two to three people who get it.  It's also difficult for most doctors to recognize, it grows fast and is usually diagnosed after a biopsy.  In most cases it starts as a bump or lump on the skin.  The good news is new treatments are being used to address merkel cell carcinoma.

"It's always involved surgery and some radiation but more recently we've used immunotherapy, turning the patients own immune system on against the cancer and that has improved the chances of beating the cancer by about 10-fold," said Dr. Nghiem.

Dr. Nghiem says the most important step a person can take to prevent skin cancer is wear sunscreen and avoid the sun.  He also says the best sunscreen to buy is one that you'll use everyday.

"An SPF of at least 30 or so is reasonable, broad spectrum," said Dr. Nghiem.  "Turns out American's apply about a quarter as much sunscreen as the government thinks they apply and therefore reapplying and or putting it on carefully and a little bit thicker than you might think are important for protection."

If you have a history of skin cancer, you should talk to your doctor about how often you should get checked out.  Dr. Nghiem says for everyone else, it's a good idea to go in for an exam every few years.

 

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