May Is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.

Dr. Robin Matsukawa with Adventist Health Castle explains the two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.

Melanoma is the third most common, but as Matsukawa notes, it’s the most dangerous and causes the most deaths.

Even though Hawaii is known for having beautiful, sunny weather year-round, Matsukawa says residents are not at a greater risk of skin cancer as a state.

“Surprisingly, statistics as a state, we’re not even top 10, so that’s good,” Matsukawa said. “But, if you are fair-skinned, so if you are Caucasian, you’re actually three times more likely to contract skin cancer than the national average.”

To avoid skin cancer, Matsukawa has these tips:

  • Avoid overexposure. Don’t stay too long in the sun. Even as little as 15 minutes in the sun unprotected can lead to signs of sun burn and potentially skin cancer.
  • Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds. Using tanning beds on a regular basis can increase your risk for skin cancer.
  • Use sunscreen. Apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply at least every two hours, and after swimming or sweating.
  • Cover up. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with 99- to 100-percent UVA/UVB protection, when possible.
    • Keep in mind a wet T-shirt offers less UV protection than a dry one. Darker colors may offer more protection. Baseball caps are popular among younger people, but it does not protect exposed areas.
  • Seek shade. The most intense rays are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
    • UV rays, not temperature, cause the damage. Clouds do not block UV rays, they filter them, and sometimes only slightly.
  • Pay attention to the UV index when planning outdoor activities to prevent overexposure to the sun. UV index predicts exposure levels on a 0-15 scale; higher levels indicate a higher risk of overexposure. If UV index is 3 or higher, sun protection is needed.

In general, if you see a new growth or a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in an old growth, those could be warning signs of skin cancer.

The ABCDEs of detecting melanoma:

  • A: Asymmetrical
  • B: Border (irregular/jagged)
  • C: Color (uneven)
  • D: Diameter (larger than a pea, pencil eraser)
  • E: Evolving (growing over weeks/months)

Another important note, Matsukawa warned, “If you’re Asian, Filipino, Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, please be aware that about 65 percent of their cancers can be on the palms of their hands, on the bottom of their feet, around the nail beds, and even inside the mouth.”

If you see any of these signs, Matsukawa suggest seeing your primary care doctor or dermatologist.

“Studies show greater than 95-percent success cure rate if you find it early,” he said.

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