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Skin Cancer Prevention & Detection

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month- Did you know that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States? Exposure to the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays is one of the main risk factors for skin cancer. Here’s what you need to know.


Understanding Sunscreen

When to wear sunscreen? Everyday! Regardless of the weather, the sun emits harmful UV rays.

Which sunscreen to choose? Look for a sunscreen that is broad spectrum, water resistant and SPF 30+ (Sun Protection Factor). Although theoretically, the higher the SPF the better, there is
no evidence that sunscreens with SPF above 50 provide any better protection. Broad spectrum means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The number of SPF only tells us about the percent of UVB rays that are filtered, as UVB rays are what cause sunburns. However, both UVA and UVB rays can cause damage leading to skin cancer. Ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide help protect against UVA rays.

How to apply? Apply approximately 1 ounce of sunscreen to all exposed skin 15 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every 2 hours or more frequently if you are swimming or sweating. Don’t
neglect your scalp, ears, feet, and lips (look for a lip balm with SPF 15+).

Stay Covered

Even before our sunscreen, our clothing is our first line of defense. Wear lightweight long-sleeved clothing, hats, and sunglasses. Also, consider looking for specific sun-protective clothing. Clothes that have UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Stay in the shade when possible! The strongest sun is between 10 am and 2 pm. Consider avoiding direct sun rays during those hours.

Spot the spot

Here what to look for when evaluating a mole:

ABCDE’s of melanoma
A = Asymmetry
B = Border (irregular or poorly defined edges)
C = Color (variety of colors within on mole)

D = Diameter (greater than the size of an eraser head)
E = Evolving (changing in size, shape, color, itching, bleeding or scabbing)

At home do a thorough skin check every 1-3 months. Using a mirror look at the front and back of your body for new or changing moles. Commonly missed areas are the scalp, buttock, back of legs, and in between toes. If you have concerns, let your primary care provider know.

For more information on this subject check out -,, or come on in and ask your provider.

Written by Lena Lax, a Nurse Practitioner at Arlington Family Practice

Lena Lax, NP

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