Daniel Aires, director of the dermatology division at University of Kansas Hospital, chatted recently about trends and tips when it comes to skin cancer. Find more information about skin cancer by going to www.kumed.com/healthwise and typing "skin cancer prevention" in the search field.
What are some common misconceptions about skin protection?
The most common is that if you put on a moisturizer with SPF or a sunscreen every day, you are protected.
Why is that not true?
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Because when they measure SPF ratings in a lab, they apply it so thickly you almost can't see through it. When people put it on in real life, they put on a lot less and they're getting a lot less protection.
Also, when people think of protective clothing, they mostly think of long-sleeved shirts. And that is almost the opposite of what they should think.
The shirt leaves your head and your hands exposed. And those are two places where you don't want to biopsy, because there's not a lot of skin there. I'd rather see someone walk around outside in a swimsuit and a hat and gloves than in a long-sleeved shirt and no hat and no gloves. The most important thing is to avoid sunburns. It's generally not that 3, 4, 5 minutes of sun you get walking across a parking lot that is a problem.
Are people who have olive skin less at risk?
If you have a Mediterranean background and there is no history of skin cancer in any family members, you do not need to worry as much. If you have light skin or light-colored eyes or a relative who has had skin cancer, you need to be more careful.
What about African-Americans?
African-Americans are less likely to get a sunburn and therefore less likely to develop skin cancer, but I have seen and removed lots of skin cancers from African-Americans and other people with darker pigmentation. No one is immune.
Are there gender differences?
Yes. Women get more on the legs and feet. Men get more on the arms and upper body from going shirtless.
How often should people check their bodies and how should they do it?
People who are concerned should do a self skin exam once a month. If you look every day, it's like puppies: You don't see them growing, but they are. The best place is a well-lighted area with a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to check the back or have a partner check the back.
What trends are you seeing?
Sadly, skin cancer rates are going up and up. Americans became sun worshipers in the '60s, '70s and '80s, and there is generally a 10-, 20- or 30-year lag in when skin cancers appear. So there's a hope that in 20 years it will start to trend downward as people became more aware.