MHLbannersmallSkin Cancer Detection and Prevention
Month is a good time to get ready

As promoted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May – busy month that it is – also carries the designation of Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. It's also the last full month of spring and the transitional period that begins the northern hemisphere's tilt toward maximum sunshine. And as your thoughts turn toward beaches, gardening, lawn work, summer sports and a range of other outdoor activities, keep the following in mind:

  • Skin cancer (including basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma) is the most common type of cancer in the United States affecting more than two million people annually – and over the past three decades more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
  • Unlike many other common cancers, melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) occurs in both younger and older people. Rates continue to increase with age and are highest among those in their 80s, but melanoma is not uncommon even among those younger than 30. In fact, it is one of the more common cancers in young adults (especially young women).
  • sunThe main cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. UV radiation can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps.
  • Skin cancer can almost always be cured when it's found and treated early, which is why National Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month came into being.

What can you do for Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month?

wear-sunscreenThis month, before summer makes its official entry into coastal Virginia, is a good time to learn everything you can on how to protect yourself personally. If you're a parent of younger children, it's particularly important to help them adopt good sun protection habits as soon as possible. And be sure to keep these tips in mind:

Put on the Sunscreen: A few years ago the U.S. Food and Drug Administration created new sun protection factor (SPF) guidelines for products being used as sunscreens. These new guidelines can help us lower the risk of skin cancer as well as sunburn and premature skin aging. Now that the packaging information on sunscreens is a little more accurate and straightforward, it's especially important to read it before making a selection.

Basically, sunscreens provide protection by prolonging the amount of time it takes for the sun's rays to adversely affect the skin. It is important to note that in the current guidelines, sunscreen must be applied more frequently and doesn't have the same degree of "sweat proof" or "water proof" qualities that the manufacturers once claimed. Regarding the SPF number, the longer the amount of time that you plan to spend outdoors, the higher your sunscreen's SPF should be. The best advice is to carefully read the guidelines and always use sunscreen when you're spending anything other than a very short time outdoors.

Get Out of the Sun: You've got to figure that getting out of the hot sunlight and into the cooler shade is the original strategy for protection from UV radiation, long before anyone knew what UV radiation was. After all the millennia of shade seeking, it still works. When natural shade is at a minimum create your own with pop-up shelters, umbrellas and wide-brimmed hats. And don't forget that pets need shade, too.

uv-ray-protectionPut on Some Good Shades: UV rays can damage your eyes as well as your skin, and even short periods of unprotected time in the sun can cause a problem. That's why it's important to have effective sunglasses that offer 100% UV absorption. And carefully read the label to make sure.

Check the UV index: The UV index is a forecast that lets you know if you are at risk for overexposure to the sun. Index levels range from two to 11+, where level two is low risk and levels six and above are high risk. Check the UV index in your area before you go out so you can protect yourself accordingly. The index can be found online at

The sun brings warmth, light and some needed vitamin D. But since it can also bring serious health conditions related to our skin, a little planning and a lot of awareness will help you and your family stay healthy through the summer.