Medicine For People!

August 2020: Skin Cancer Prevention for Those in a Hurry

Woman in sunshine
Image credit: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/957151

Skin Cancer Prevention for Those in a Hurry

  • Sunscreen
  • Areas That Need Sunscreen
  • Parasol
  • Surveillance

Sunscreen

Choose an SPF between 30 and 70. If you are very light-skinned, don't get much exposure to the sun, are someplace with more sun exposure than you are used to, or have a history of skin cancer, use a higher strength. If your dermatologist has a recommendation, follow that. The main thing is to corral it and get it on your skin.

Areas That Need Sunscreen

A man who spent much of his life in Alaska came to see me once with a melanoma on his butt. So, you can get skin cancer anywhere. People can get melanoma under their fingernails. The high danger places are the places exposed to sun as in the picture above. We see most skin cancers on the forehead, the temples, the nose and especially the angle where the nose joins the cheek, luckily shaded in the person above. Also shaded above is the person's ear, but ears are heavily exposed to sun and frequently affected by skin cancer. All parts of the ear can be affected, especially the outer rim on top and the curved shell-like areas within.

These are also areas that are difficult to treat for skin cancer, so if you get one thing out of this newsletter, put sunscreen on your face, nose, and ears. This is the seatbelt of skin cancer prevention. It's not going to provide 100% protection, but, like the automobile restraint will cut your risk down considerably.

For you wild and crazy folks here in Port Townsend wearing short-sleeved shirts in the summer, don't forget your forearms and the backs of your hands.

If you've taken off your shirt, then you're not in a hurry—better read something more detailed than this!

Parasols and a Language Lesson

Ladies used to carry parasols to keep the sun off their faces. I often use a folding umbrella. Perhaps it draws a little extra attention, but perhaps it helps the drivers notice and avoid me when I'm walking.

The French use the prefix "para" to denote defending or shielding, as in parapluie for umbrella (a shield against the rain), parachute (to protect against a fall), and parasol (a shield against the sun).

If you don't have a parasol, a brimmed hat will help, as will lightweight, cool clothing over your arms and legs.

Surveillance

We like to give people over the age of 50 or 60 (depending upon complexion and degree of skin aging) a head to toe skin exam at every annual check-in. While you cannot see every square inch of your own skin, most people seem to do a pretty good job of surveillance, so keep an eye on yourself and your loved ones.

While skin cancer is the most common cancer, most everyone survives it. But you are far better off to avoid it.

Now get out there and enjoy the day!

Thanks to Jill Buhler Rienstra for timely editorial assistance.

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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.