By BOB DYER, MD
Milton Family Practice
Activities in the sun in Vermont are just as enjoyable as winter activities. However, with the warmer weather, we tend to wear clothing that exposes us to more sunlight. But we don’t just expose ourselves to light we can see, we are exposed to ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light is something we are not able to detect with our eyes, yet it can cause long lasting damage to our skin and can lead to melanoma, also known as skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
In a 2014 study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Vermont had the second highest occurrence of melanoma in the country! The only state with a higher occurrence rate was Utah. You can see the study at this link.
Melanoma may not become evident until adulthood, but the potential for damage begins in childhood. So how do I protect myself and my children?
- Wear protective clothing: long sleeve shirts, pants, hats (especially ones with brims all the way around the head), sunglasses
- Sunscreen: should be at least SPF 15 or above, apply 15 minutes before going outside (even on cloudy days!). Reapply every two hours if swimming, sweating.
- Stay in the shade: peak sun exposure hours are between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
- Things to remember: wet t-shirts don’t protect as well, darker colors protect better than white, UV rays reflect off of water, snow, sand and concrete
What signs of melanoma should I look out for on my skin? Remember ABCDE:
- Asymmetry – one sign of a suspicious mole is if you were to draw a line down the middle and each side looks different from the other
- Borders – a suspicious mole may have an irregular outline or notched edges
- Color – a suspicious mole may be multicolored (brown, tan, back, red); moles that are one color tend to be benign
- Diameter – melanomas tend to be a little larger in size (like a pencil eraser) than benign moles and may grow over time
- Evolving – benign moles will typically stay the same; moles you should worry about can change with time. That is they can change size, shape, color and can begin to bleed
- If you have any mole you’re concerned about, ask your doctor to check!