Be Safe in the Sun: Avoid Melanoma

As our desire to break out of the confines imposed by COVID-19 isolation increases, many of us will rush outdoors to soak up some sun. Health experts support this inclination, since the sun can boost physical and mental health … but the sun also can present health hazards.

The most notable negative is the impact that too much sun can have on your skin, and we’re not just talking about sunburns. The sun can present a much more serious threat: melanoma.

An aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma is particularly dangerous because it can be hard to detect and can spread to other parts of the body. On the other hand, if discovered early, melanoma can usually be treated successfully. Melanoma patients who are treated before the cancer spreads have a five-year survival rate of 98%; however, if the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, the five-year survival rate drops as low as 23%.

Even better than treating melanoma early is avoiding it. This requires knowing your risks and avoiding melanoma’s causes.

Everyone is at risk for melanoma, but some people are particularly susceptible. If you have fair skin, red or blond hair, light eyes, dozens of moles, a history of sunburn, have spent a lot of time in the sun, or have a family or personal history of skin cancer, you should be monitored annually for melanoma.

Reducing your risk of melanoma boils down to a simple strategy: Avoid overexposure to UV rays. Here are some guidelines:

Wear sunscreen. Use it any time you’re in the sun, even if it’s cold outside. And remember: Reapply repeatedly.

Avoid peak rays. Don’t go out into the midday sun.

Don’t sunbathe. Sorry, but it’s just a bad idea, no matter how much sunscreen you put on.

Stay away from tanning beds. Indoor tanning beds increase melanoma risk by 75%!

Wear UPF-rated clothing. Often made to be comfortable in hot weather, this clothing can do wonders to protect your skin.

If you should develop melanoma, the key to survival is early detection, and that often requires a doctor’s input, because melanoma signs can look like normal skin problems to untrained eyes. “Skin cancer can look very harmless if you do not know what to look for,” says Dr. Angela Lamb. So ask your doc to check your skin, and then do all you can to enjoy that sunshine safely.

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