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Protect Against Skin Cancer this Summer Season

6/26/2013

Spending time outdoors is a great way to enjoy the warmer weather and get exercise. Blue skies and high temperatures bring people out to parks, pools and beaches wearing summer clothing and exposing more skin. Enjoying the sunshine is nice, but too much can be a bad thing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) skin cancer is the most common form of cancer overall in the United States. Melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer, but it is the most dangerous and accounts for the most skin cancer-related deaths. It can advance rapidly and spread to other parts of the body, making it harder to treat, but is preventable and can be treated effectively if detected early.

The leading cause of melanoma is over-exposure to sunlight, specifically ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. UV rays damage the skin’s ability to heal and produce healthy, new cells. The damaged cells mutate and grow into tumors, visible as dark spots, lesions or moles on the skin.

Anyone who notices any change on their skin, including changes to already existing moles and lesions, should talk with their doctor. Remember the American Cancer Society’s ABCs when noticing a mole:

  • A stands for Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • B for Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are irregular, ragged, blurred, or notched.
  • C for Color: The color over the mole is not the same all over. There may be shades of tan, brown, or black.
  • D is for Diameter: The mole is larger than about one-quarter inch – about the size of a pencil eraser; although it is possible for melanomas to be smaller.

It’s a common misconception that people with darker complexions are not susceptible to skin cancers. Although skin cancer is more common in people with fairer skin and features, anyone can develop skin cancer.

While some forms of skin cancer develop because of genetics, most other forms can be prevented. Start sun protective measures early because a majority of sun exposure occurs during childhood and early adulthood and exposure to sunlight is the leading cause of skin cancer. Just one severe sunburn increases the risk of developing skin cancer. CDC recommends covering exposed skin with loose fitting clothing, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 during any outside activity. Sun exposure is the most hazardous between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest. Getting into the shade during these peak hours is another effective way to prevent skin cancer.

One of the preventive services TRICARE covers is skin cancer screenings for beneficiaries with a family or personal history of skin cancer, increased occupational or recreational exposure to sunlight or clinical evidence of precursor lesions. For more information about preventive skin cancer screenings, visit www.tricare.mil/preventiveservices and select “skin cancer exams.” However, anyone can have a suspicious lesion evaluated, no matter their family, occupational or recreational history.

Following CDC recommendations for avoiding sun exposure is an easy way to prevent skin cancer. Be sure to look for signs of skin cancer and report any changes to a doctor. For more information about skin cancer and prevention go to www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin.

Last Updated 6/3/2014