Preventing skin cancer

Article Date: May 23, 2013

Mathew Davey, M.D., FAADMathew Davey, M.D., FAAD, sees people with skin cancer everywhere he goes—and not just in his dermatology office. "I can't go an hour without seeing skin cancer," he said, referring to the most common carcinomas: basal cell and squamous cell. "I see them so often. I see them even when I'm standing in the supermarket line."

Dr. Davey detected his own father's melanoma recently. Melanoma is a less common but more serious skin cancer. Fortunately, it was stage one and his dad had a good outcome. But that doesn't happen all the time. Some people wait too long.

Skin cancer can be deadly. It's the most common form of cancer in the United States, with two million people diagnosed every year. There's been an alarming rise in all age groups, but the incidence of melanoma among 18- to 39-year-old women is up 800 percent in women the last 40 years.

With Memorial Day the kickoff to summer, it's a good time to learn the facts.

  • You're 15 times more likely to sunburn at noon than later in the afternoon.
  • On the cloudiest days, even when it isn't hot, 50 to 80 percent of UV rays burn through the clouds.
  • Just one blistering burn can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer.
A decrease in the ozone layer and the popularity of tanning beds is contributing to the rise in skin cancer. "UVB is a known carcinogen," he said. "We stay away from cigarettes because they cause cancer. But we don't minimize our exposure to the rays."

Heredity is also a big risk factor. He recently treated a 13-year-old for melanoma; one in 10 patients diagnosed with the disease has a family member with a history of melanoma.

Dr. Davey recommended that anyone 20 and over have a baseline skin screening every year when he or she sees a primary care physician. If something looks suspicious, the physician can recommend a dermatologist.

"There's no such thing as too much sunscreen," Dr. Davey said. He recommended you use SPF 50 or above and apply liberally every two hours. "More often if you're in the water or sweating." Dispose of the sunscreen if it's over a year old. "If you still have some left from last year, you're not using enough," he said.

He also recommended sun protective clothing, which you can find in sporting goods stores. He wore it on a recent vacation and was surprised to see a lot of others donning it as well. "We're behind the west and east coasts," he said. "Sun protective clothing is really in vogue there."

He predicted the clothing would become more popular in the Midwest, while he hoped tan skin would become less popular. "I hope in the next 10 to 20 years all patients will think tans aren't attractive anymore," he said as he looked at photos of skin cancers on a dermatology website. "One thing I know. I never had a patient say they wish they'd had more sun."

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Mathew Davey, M.D., FAAD

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