May is skin cancer awareness month. Being in Ocean City, a beach-oriented summer vacation town, keeping our skin safe and protected from the sun should always be at the front of our minds. Here’s some vital information courtesy of Atlantic General Hospital on melanoma and skin cancer, how medicines can make skin extra sun-sensitive and the basics of sunscreen.
Melanoma and Skin Cancer
By Sara Moghaddam, MD, FAAD
Board Certified Dermatologist, Atlantic General Dermatology
Melanoma is a potentially serious type of skin cancer, but if caught early, is highly treatable. May is melanoma awareness month. Here we break down some facts about melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers:
- Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.
- Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common types of skin cancer with melanoma being less common.
- In 2018, about 91,270 people in the U.S. will get melanoma.
- Rates of melanoma have been increasing for at least 30 years.
- Before age 50, melanoma is more common in women than in men. But for men over the age 50, the risk is higher.
- Melanoma accounts for about 1% of all skin cancers.
- Melanoma may appear on the skin suddenly without warning but also can develop on an existing mole.
Melanoma is caused by exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) – this includes UV light from the sun as well as artificial UV light in tanning beds. Anyone may develop a melanoma, but there are some individuals who may be at higher risk. Risk factors include history of excessive sun exposure or indoor tanning, fair features including light colored hair, pale skin, or blue eyes, having greater than 50 moles, or family or personal history of melanoma.
When detected at an earlier stage, melanoma is very treatable. In my practice, most melanomas are treated with a simple in-office procedure with just local anesthesia to the skin. The average five-year survival rate of these individuals with early stage disease is extremely high and estimated at 99%.
Medicines can make skin sun-sensitive
The medicines you take could make you more vulnerable to sunburns and allergic reactions when you’re exposed to ultraviolet light.
Sunscreen, shade and a wide-brimmed hat; chances are you know the basics about guarding your skin on sunny days.
But you may need to apply extra caution if you’re taking certain medicines—such as antibiotics, birth control medicines and pain relievers. Some types of drugs can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Skin Cancer Foundation.
That means that even with brief sun exposure—seconds to minutes in some folks—these drugs can cause problems such as:
Exaggerated sunburn-like reactions.
Abnormal reddening of the skin.
Eczema-like rashes with itching, swelling, blistering, oozing and scaling of the skin.
With long-term sun exposure, drugs that increase sun sensitivity can contribute to problems such as:
Premature skin aging.
Drugs with photosensitizing ingredients can also worsen existing skin problems like psoriasis, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Such drugs can even aggravate autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.
Protect your skin from damage: Know which sunscreen to choose and how to use it.
Using sunscreen is one of the easiest things you can do to protect your appearance and your health.
The right sunscreen used properly can help protect your appearance by reducing your risk of sunburns, age spots and wrinkles. It can also protect your health by reducing your risk for skin cancer.
How sunscreen works
Sunscreen offers protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays in a few ways, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Among them:
- Reflecting UV rays with ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium oxide and photoreflective polymer spheres.
- Absorbing UV rays with substances such as oxybenzone, avobenzone and UV-altering pigments.
- Counteracting damage caused by UV rays that make it through to the skin with antioxidants such as extract of green tea or candlewood plants.
Oils, creams, lotions, pastes, ointments, sticks and sprays—those are just a few of the sunscreen formulations you can choose from.
Zinc oxide and titanium oxide formulations may work better for children and those with sensitive skin. Creams are a good choice for the face, notes the AAD, while stick sunscreen works well around the eyes, and gels are great for hairy areas like the scalp and men’s chests.
Ultimately, sunscreen will do no good if you don’t use it. So choose a formulation that you know you will pick up and apply again and again.