Protecting Against Skin Cancer

You’ve been counting the days until you can sink your toes in the sand and soak up the summer sun. But wait – what looks like a healthy glow today could be the cause of skin cancer later in life.

How can you safely enjoy fun in the sun?

Oncologist Jack Jacoub, MD, from the MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center, has the answers you need to prevent skin cancers so you can enjoy many more years under the sun.

Who is at risk for skin cancer?

All of us are vulnerable, at every age, on every part of the body. It develops in light and dark-skinned men and women, including those who think they never burn. Sun-blistered children and teenagers are especially at risk. More than one blistering doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life.

The reality is that skin cancer is on the rise. More people have been diagnosed with skin cancer in the last three decades than all other cancers combined. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.

What exactly is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunshine or tanning beds causes damage to the skin cells. These cells begin to quickly multiply and form cancerous growths. Although not the most common of skin cancers, melanoma causes the most deaths. The good news is that if detected early, it is almost always curable.

Anyone who has more than 100 moles is also at greater risk. We most often see it in Caucasians and people over age 50, but all of us need to be vigilant.

What’s changed for persons you see diagnosed with melanoma?

Treatment today is vastly improved compared to just five years ago. There are more options. Again, the key is early detection. Our patients’ treatment plans are very personalized, producing improved outcomes. Therapies are more targeted, well tolerated and more likely to cure the cancer.

Untreated melanoma can still be lethal and it can recur, but the American Cancer Society reports the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 91 percent. For early stage melanomas, the rate is 98 percent survival. If you can spot it, you can stop it.

Outside of melanoma, how serious is skin cancer?

Do not take skin cancer lightly. Many of the conditions are disfiguring, and some forms may be fatal. Neglected, that odd-shaped mole can become bigger and cancer cells can spread to other bodily organs.

When should I talk to my doctor?

See your doctor without delay if anything unusual appears on your skin. That includes any new moles, changing moles, or a sore that doesn’t heal.

Be suspicious of any moles with an “ABCDE” characteristic:

A = Asymmetry

One half is unlike the other half.

B = Border

Watch for moles with irregular or poorly defined borders.

C = Color

It varies from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red or blue.

D = Diameter

Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.

E = Evolving

Be alert to a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.

What makes the MemorialCare Cancer Institute unique?

It’s our comprehensive approach to serving patients, from preventive screenings and diagnosis to clinical research and survivorship support. This is why the MemorialCare Cancer Institute has earned the “accreditation with commendation” from the Commission on Cancer.

What strategies will make fun in the sun safer?

The number-one skin cancer risk factor is overexposure from the sun’s UV rays. Sand and water actually increase the reflection of UV light. But doing the following is essential to skin cancer prevention.

  • Limit exposure to direct sun. Whenever possible seek shade, especially when the sun’s rays are most intense, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing. Wear long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with 99-100 percent UVA/UVB protection.
  • Apply a sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher to all uncovered areas of skin 30 minutes before going outdoors. Only use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Even on cloudy days, reapply at least every two hours, and after swimming or sweating.