Now that spring has officially sprung, most of us will spend a lot more time outside, mowing yards, planting flower gardens and cooking out.
And although it is difficult to resist the temptation to bask endlessly in the warm sun after so many days bundled under layers of clothing all winter, your good health could depend on whether you show restraint.
Dr. Robert Bridges, a general and vascular surgeon with Takoma Medical Associates, strongly suggests that we limit ourselves to direct exposure whenever possible, always remembering to slather on the sunscreen.
“One person dies every hour from skin cancer, primarily melanoma,” Dr. Bridges said. “And one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.”
Dr. Bridges, who graduated from medical school at Loma Linda University in Loma, Linda, Calif., will discuss skin cancer more in depth on Wednesday, May 6, at noon at the Everett and Carolyn Coolidge Volunteer Conference Center at Takoma Regional Hospital.
A heart-healthy lunch by local caterer Deidra Harruff will precede the lecture at 11:30 a.m. Cost for the program is $6. Please RSVP by calling (423) 798-8110.
Even though 20 percent of Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, there is good news related to disease prevention. At least 100,000 cancer cases and 60,000 cancer deaths can be prevented each year with early detection, Dr. Bridges said.
“Look for a curious growth on your skin that is asymmetrical, has an uneven border, an unusual color and is larger than a pencil eraser,” Dr. Bridges said. “If it falls into this category, then a doctor should examine it.”
There are three types of skin cancer – basal cell, squamous cell and the dreaded melanoma.
“Basal is the least harmful, squamous is in the middle and melanoma is the worst,” he says. “All three types of skin cancer are related to sun exposure. The key is to not get badly sunburned.”
Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for many people to suffer severe sunburns, even blistering. “They didn’t know any better,” he said. “Today, we do know just how harmful and even deadly it can be. The damage is done when we’re younger and don’t think about it.”
One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chance for skin cancer later in life, Dr. Bridges said.
Most patients with skin cancer are at least 60 years old and spent a lot of time in the sun when they were younger, he noted.
Skin cancer usually attacks sun-exposed areas, including the face, nose, ears and forearms.
“But skin cancer is treatable if caught early enough,” Dr. Bridges said.
Dr. Bridges recommends that sun-seekers always slather on sunscreen with the highest sun protection factor (SPF) possible – even on cloudy days. He also suggests wearing long sleeves and a hat.