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Skin Cancer

As we head into the summer, families begin making plans for vacations and recreational activities. One of the most popular activities is enjoying the sun and warmth. These range from hanging out at the pool, playing golf, tennis, going on vacations to resorts, or heading to the beach to enjoy the beaches and water. The one constant is lots of sun.

Though no longer the universal fad it once was, tanning is still very much in vogue as people seek that golden hue on their skin. However, we have to remember excessive sun exposure places increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Although the public has gained more awareness of the risks of excessive sun exposure, many still sun tan without recommended protection. According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), skin cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in the U.S. Yet most cases are preventable.

Almost five million people are treated for skin cancer every year in America, at an estimated cost of $8.1 million. Thus, we must continuously educate the public– did you know May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month?

Certain skin types are at more risk of getting skin cancer than others. Very fair skinned people are at the highest risk. Darker complexion people have lower risk. Even if you never burn, you’re still at risk. Intermittent intense sun exposures (such as when people lay out in sun all day only during summer times) carries more risk of developing skin cancers than just daily sun exposures. So if you’re one of those young people who only tans during spring break and summer, beware!

So what are some things you can do to prevent getting this cancer? The first tip is obvious—don’t lay out in the sun. The sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are directly hitting you when you’re lying on the beach or pool trying to tan. The strongest exposure is between around 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Though this tip is obvious, it’s hard to stay cooped up indoors in the summer.

So the second tip is just as obvious and easy to follow. You must use a broad-spectrum sunscreen—at least SPF 15 or higher even better. Furthermore, you must be persistent in reapplying the sunscreen while outdoors. A common myth is that applying the sunscreen once is enough to prevent skin cancer. You’re still getting exposed to sunlight’s damaging UV rays and need to reapply the sunscreen frequently—at least every few hours.

Finally, don’t forget that blocking the sunlight is another effective way to minimize your risks. An easy way to do this and look hip at the same time is to wear sunglasses and wear hats. Women can look quite chic wearing over sized sunglasses and broad rimmed hats. Sun protective clothing is another good trick.

Even if you are vigilant about sun protection, don’t neglect careful surveillance of you skin—particularly the areas that get exposed to sun the most. This includes your face, ears, and exposed arms and legs. Any new skin lesion that develops and doesn’t go away (or enlarges) should get evaluated by your doctor.

People with higher risk factors (fair skinned, or have a family history of documented skin cancers) need to be even more vigilant. A doctor will carefully examine your lesion. If the suspicion is low, or if the history supports, then sometimes a brief course of topical medications is acceptable. However, close follow up is important. Ultimately, the only way to know if a skin bump is skin cancer is to biopsy the lesion.

Options for biopsies range from shave biopsies to punch biopsies to excision the entire lesion. If the lesion returns concerning, then make sure you get seen by a dermatologist or facial plastic/plastic surgeon for further evaluation.

The summer season is a time meant to be enjoyed with family and friends, doing fun activities. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy everything summertime offers and protect your skin at the same time. The protective measures are all very easy and shouldn’t interfere with your plans.

Dr. Kenneth Yu Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is a qualified team of experts serving the San Antonio, Texas area. To schedule a consultation, please contact our Concierge Patient Coordinator at (210) 876-6868 or