This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and, with temperatures forecast to warm up, more people will be heading out into the California sunshine.
But the start of summer should also be a time to remember the need to protect against too much exposure, which can lead to sunburns and increased risk of developing melanoma, according to health experts.
Dr. Parminder Sidhu, oncologist at Mercy Medical Center, highly advises people to limit their sun exposure, as well as exposure to tanning beds that generate extreme levels of ultraviolet rays.
Melanoma is the most severe form of skin cancer that develops in the cells giving pigment to the skin.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., and exposure to the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer, according to the Johns Hopkins health library.
It’s especially important for children to be protected from severe sunburns because their skin cells still are dividing, Sidhu said. If the dividing skin cells are damaged severely by the sun, causing them to lose control, Sidhu said there is a higher risk of those cells turning cancerous later in life. When cells lose control, they will make mistakes resulting in cancerous cells continuing to divide rather than die.
Dr. Laurence Altshuler, director of oncology at Southwestern Regional Medical Center in Tulsa, Okla., said being safe in the sun is an important part of avoiding skin cancer.
“The worst risk for melanoma is sunburn,” Altshuler said in a telephone interview. “It has more adverse effect on the skin.”
Applying sunscreen every two hours while in direct sunlight could be the solution to a painful sunburn, he said. Avoiding a severe sunburn could be the reason skin cancer cells don’t develop or multiply.
No one is completely free from the risk of contracting melanoma, but many preventive measures can be taken.
Foods loaded with antioxidants, citrus fruits, nuts and leafy green vegetables are all natural protectors people can incorporate in their daily diets to help protect their skin from changes that can lead to skin cancers.
According to Altshuler, carrots can reduce the risk of sunburns and avocados can reduce skin damage from the sun.
“Get you a Corona and put a lime in it, then eat some guacamole,” Altshuler said.
He also recommends a sunscreen with an SPF level between 30 and 50. While there are sunscreens with higher SPF levels, he said, the amount of protection offered by those formulas is hardly better than the 98 percent protection found in SPF 50.
And, in any case, be sure to reapply the sunscreen frequently.
“All sunscreen deteriorates after two hours no matter what sunscreen you have,” Altshuler said.
Individuals with many, irregular or large moles have the highest risk of contracting melanoma and should have their skin evaluated regularly. Moles that are different in texture from one end to the other, have an abnormal growth overtime, bleed easily or don’t seem to heal should be a warning sign and should be looked at by a doctor, Altshuler said.
According to the American Cancer Society, individuals with red hair, blond hair, blue eyes or fair skin also have a higher risk for developing melanoma.
Darker-skinned individuals have less risk because the greater amount of pigment in their skin offers greater protection from UV rays. Nevertheless, Sidhu said, individuals with darker skin do have an increased chance of developing melanoma on their soles and palms.
Frequent checkups by a dermatologist are important, Sidhu said, because melanoma cases caught early have a good chance of being cured As an oncologist, Sidhu says he normally sees patients whose stage 3 or 4 cancers are too advanced to be stopped.
Through targeted chemotherapy, only attacking the cancerous cells instead of all cells, many patients have been able to go into remission fighting off the disease for a period of time.
“Most people will get melanoma back and will eventually become immune to the drugs,” Sidhu said.