Skin cancer awareness

by: Jessica Barto, B.A., R.N.
Mille Lacs Health System

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness month, and Mille Lacs Health System wants to assist patients with that awareness by holding a free skin cancer screening event, which will take place on Thursday, May 12, from 10-noon and 1-3, at the Onamia clinic. You must have an appointment for the screening, which you can get by calling 320-532-3154, Option 1.

Spring projects are starting, planting and outside fun are upon us. We are overdue for shedding the winter blues and getting some well-needed warmth and sunshine. But, how much sun is good sun? The Surgeon General says any skin that is burned is damaged skin and holds a higher risk for skin cancer in later years. Generally, a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 needs to be used at all times on the skin, with reapplication every one to two hours, as recommended by the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention. Skin can still come in contact with the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays even with a light shirt on. It is the sun’s natural UV rays that cause the skin to burn, and can increase your risk of skin cancer with each exposure. Wearing a sunscreen with at least SPF 15, being in the shade when possible, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and avoiding midday sun, are some preventative strategies that can be done on a daily basis.

The time when UV exposure is likely to be greatest is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and then there is that “short shadow” rule: The intensity of UV rays is directly related to the angle of the sun. The shadow rule indirectly determines the sun's altitude by observing the length of a person's shadow during the course of the day. When a person's shadow is shorter than the person is tall, the intensity of the UV rays from the sun is more likely to cause sunburn.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 1 out of 5 Americans on average will develop skin cancer. We can’t change if we have fair skin, or if the job we have requires us to be outside, or if our enjoyable activities put us in the sun. What we can change is our knowledge of skin cancer risks, and our use of prevention on a daily basis. Indoor tanning is never healthy. Evidence from multiple studies has shown that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. It can also cause eye damage.

Make an appointment with your primary care provider to have your skin looked at if you cannot attend the screening event in May. Remember, wear sunscreen and be covered at all times when outside. Handouts will be provided in the Onamia clinic lobby during the month of May for more information.