May is here and that means Memorial Day Weekend lies ahead, which for many is the kick off for beach trips and afternoons spent by the pool. With all this fun in the sun also comes the responsibility of making sure that we protect our skin from harmful UV rays, which is why May is also Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Even though skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer, it is still the most common cancer in the United States with 1 in 5 Americans developing skin cancer within their life.
Being informed of the facts that can make you a higher risk for skin cancer and effective ways to help prevent and spot skin abnormalities can make a huge difference. The number one way to prevent skin cancer is to stay out of the sun, but that’s very hard to avoid all the time. When the sun’s UV rays are the strongest (between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.) it only takes 15 minutes of exposure for your skin to burn. So when you have to be in the sun for extended periods of time it is essential to apply sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 or higher and a lip balm with an SPF about 30 minutes before going out and generously reapplying every 2 hours. When possible, try to seek out some shade or wear a hat to help shade your face. Certain factors such as fair skin, blue eyes, blonde hair, family history of skin cancer and freckles are all indicators that you might be more susceptible to burn easier.
The most common types of skin cancer are non-melanoma, such as basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, which are usually not fatal. However, without spotting the signs related to these types of cancer early on and treating it you could be at risk for them developing into melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and the leading cause of death from all forms of skin cancer, so early detection could be lifesaving.
Individuals with disabilities are less likely to receive routine check-ups, have fewer doctor visits and be less aware of their own health disparities, so it is important that they are educated to know to look for moles, lesions and scars on their skin that could be cancerous and to say something about it right away. The ABCs for teaching what to look for are easy:
Abnormality – is one side shaped differently than the other
Border – is it irregular
Color – various shades of tan/brown, black or red
Diameter – bigger than a pencil eraser
Evolving – has it changed shape or size
Being attentive to any skin abnormalities and making sure to use sunscreen and avoid the sun during its peak hours are all steps to protecting your skin from getting damaged. It’s essential to make sure you and your loved ones regularly check themselves for possible cancerous moles/spots and to get routine check-ups. Through its HealthMeet project, The Arc is offering free non-invasive health assessments to individuals with disabilities in 5 pilot sites across the US to help increase awareness of these types of preventable disparities. Contact your local chapter of The Arc if you need help finding a doctor or dermatologist that could help you and visit the National Council for Skin Care Prevention for more information and tips on sun protection. And don’t forget the sunscreen when heading outside this summer!