If you sport a bronzed glow year-round, Erik Dunki-Jacobs MD, a surgical oncologist at the TriHealth Cancer Institute, wants you to reevaluate your desire for tanned skin. It could save your life.
“Melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer, but it’s the most deadly,” he warns.
How Does Melanoma Develop?
Melanoma is caused by changes in cells called melanocytes, which produce a skin pigment called melanin. “Every once in a while, melanocytes can be triggered to multiply and divide, and that’s when it becomes cancer,” Dr. Dunki-Jacobs explains.
Melanoma can appear on normal skin or it may begin as a mole or other area that has changed in appearance.
Who’s at Risk for Developing Melanoma?
While melanoma can develop in people of any gender or race, it is most commonly found in white females. “The people at risk tend to be sunbathers, which is more frequent in woman than in men,” Dr. Dunki-Jacobs points out. “We’ll see that more commonly in women – not because of their gender – because of their habits.”
You are also more likely to develop melanoma if you:
- Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or red or blond hair
- Live in sunny climates or at high altitudes
- Spend a lot of time in high levels of strong sunlight, because of your job or other activities
- Have had one or more blistering sunburns during childhood
- Use tanning devices
Other risk factors include:
- Close relatives with a history of melanoma
- Certain types of moles (atypical or dysplastic) or multiple birthmarks
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication
How Can I Minimize My Risk for Developing Melanoma?
Certain risk factors will predispose someone to developing melanoma; however, with the right precautionary measures, most cases can be prevented. The best ways to lower your risk for developing melanoma include:
- Wearing sunscreen of SPF 15 on a daily basis (even in the fall and winter months)
- Wearing SPF 50 (that protects against UVA and UVB rays), if you know you will be spending an extended amount of time outside
- Reapplying sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming, sweating or exercising
- Avoiding tanning beds
“If you go to a tanning bed one time, you’re already at a 50 percent higher risk of getting melanoma than somebody who has never gone,” Dr. Dunki-Jacobs points out.
Am I Still Susceptible to Skin Damage During the Winter?
It’s important to remember that regardless of the season, you’re always susceptible to sun damage. “You should wear sunscreen year-round, especially if there’s snow on the ground. There could be a lot of reflection off the snow, so your skin is still at risk of being burnt,” Dr. Dunki-Jacobs explains.
On a related note, the sun causes more damage to the skin than smoking. “As far as wrinkles and aging, sun exposure has a significant influence on this,” he warns.