By Carla Peacock

Many of us spend summer days outdoors playing in the sun at the beach, in the backyard or at the campground, so it’s important to be aware of the causes of skin cancer, who is most at risk and how to protect yourself.

Skin cancer develops over time when ultraviolet (UV) radiation breaches the skin surface and damages your skin’s DNA. This creates abnormal cells that begin to grow uncontrollably, creating a tumour.

Those most at risk are fair or light skinned people with freckles. Though how easy you burn is a big factor, the number one cause of skin cancer is the accumulation of UV radiation exposure over a lifetime.

“The majority of my patients I see are in their 70s or 80s who spent a lot of time in the sun in their 20s and 30s without sunscreen that are experiencing slow growing cancer over their body,” said Dr. Tara Lynn Teshima, plastic surgeon at Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH) who helped to launch a new melanoma clinic at the hospital.

There are many ways to protect your skin from over-exposure to the UV rays of the sun while still enjoying the outdoors. Some key things to remember are: avoid peak sun hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the sun is most intense; use a weather app to know when the UV index is high and avoid sun exposure during these times; wear protective clothing with long sleeves and a hat; and apply sunscreen.

There are many sunscreen options on the market, and it’s important to look at the content and apply it properly to get the best protection.

Consider both the SPF number, as well as the sunblock’s ingredients, such as zinc or titanium oxide to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

If you’re planning on being in the sun for more than 10 minutes, you should apply a generous amount of sunscreen to all exposed areas and wait for 10 minutes before going outside. In addition to applying sunscreen at the start of your day, remember to reapply it every 60-90 minutes and after swimming.

It doesn’t take much effort to protect your skin, but if you notice abnormal moles or pimples or have a wound that is not healing properly, have it checked out by your family physician. If treated early enough, melanoma is almost always curable.

The new melanoma clinic at MSH brings together the hospital’s surgical, diagnostic and oncology expertise with the aim to reduce wait times for analyzing skin lesions and treatment of melanoma by improving access to specialists and surgeons.

For more information about the clinic, visit www.msh.on.ca/melanoma.

Photo: Skin cancer develops over time when ultraviolet (UV) radiation breaches the skin surface and damages your skin’s DNA.

 

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