Preventing (and Spotting) Skin Cancer
Stephanie was fresh out of the shower, applying moisturizer to her face, when she noticed the spot on her cheek for the first time. She didn’t think much of it; as an avid hiker and busy mom of three, she spent plenty of time outside, and she figured it was just another addition to her collection of freckles and moles.
But there was something different about this spot. Its texture was rougher than the other marks on her skin, and over the following months she noticed it slowly increasing in size. Finally, reluctantly, she made room in her schedule for a dermatology appointment and received the diagnosis every patient dreads: skin cancer.
Utah’s 250-plus sunny days per year and abundant outdoor opportunities have a dark side: an increased risk of all forms of skin cancer. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, strikes Utahns at a rate of 42.4 new cases per 100,000 residents; that’s higher than any other state.
You’re probably already familiar with the most basic skin cancer prevention advice: wearing sunscreen, staying out of the sun. But Dr. Douglas Woseth, M.D., FAAD, of Swinyer/Woseth Dermatology in Salt Lake City, has some special tips for athletes to minimize your risk while still enjoying the outdoor activities you love.
Sunscreen may be your first line of defense against skin cancer, but Dr. Woseth cautions that not all products are the same: “Sunscreens may have physical or chemical active ingredients. Look for a product that contains mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These go to work right away, rather than needing time after application before they’re fully effective. They’re also less likely to cause an irritating reaction on your skin.”
Hot, sweaty runs or rides can erode any sunscreen’s effectiveness. Dr. Woseth suggests choosing a water-resistant product: “No sunscreen is truly waterproof.” Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating. For added peace of mind, look for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation on the product you choose. Sunscreens marked “For Daily Use” are great for regular use, while those with the “Active Seal” are designed to withstand extended sun exposure. Make applying a high-SPF moisturizer part of your morning routine to ward off the incidental UV exposure that damages skin over time.
Since most skin cancers occur on the face and neck—areas that get the most sun—it’s a good habit to wear a hat for added protection. The Columbia Coolhead Zero Booney hat ($45), constructed of Omni-Shade UPF 50 sun-blocking nylon, is a time-tested classic. Its wide brim and neck shade shield your skin, and the Omni-Freeze ZERO lining offers sweat-activated cooling, keeping you comfortable while protecting you from UV rays.
During the sunny summer months, look for ways to limit your exposure during peak sunshine hours (10 a.m.–3 p.m.). Schedule your workday runs for early morning or late afternoon. On days off, seek out shaded spots such as the Desolation Loop in Millcreek Canyon or the Dry Creek section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for unusual marks on kids and partners, too. Children aren’t immune to skin cancer; melanoma accounts for 3 percent of all childhood cancers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And, especially on hard-to-check areas such as the back of the neck and shoulders, a partner’s sharp eye can catch a suspicious growth long before you might find it yourself.
What to do if you notice “something weird,” as Dr. Woseth describes skin cancers’ general appearance? While your primary care physician can give you a first look, you should seek a referral to a dermatologist for a thorough check. Look for a doctor who is board-certified by the American Academy of Dermatology (click for a searchable directory).
With highly effective options such as Mohs micrographic surgery available, skin cancer—especially when caught in the early stages—can be treated thoroughly, minimally invasively, and with strong chances of full recovery. As Stephanie says, “I froze up when I heard the word ‘cancer’—but three years later, I’ve had no signs of recurrence, and I’m definitely taking better care of my skin for the rest of my life.”
Melanoma — The ABCDEs
Is that mark on your shoulder just a mole—or could it be an early-stage melanoma? These five signs can help you identify a skin change that warrants a call to your doctor.
Asymmetry: Is the mole round or elliptical, or does it have a lopsided shape?
Borders: Does it have clean, clear borders, or does it look patchy or smudgy?
Color: Is it all one color, or does it have areas of red, black, and brown?
Diameter: Is it smaller or larger than a pencil eraser?
Evolving: It its appearance changing over time? Is it bleeding, itching, or forming a crust?
If you observe any of these signs, contact your doctor for further evaluation.