Sun protection is key in decreasing your risk of getting melanoma given the strong association between sun exposure over short intense periods (such as vacations) and over a lifetime. Specific things you can do to decrease your risk include:
- Stay in the shade or indoors between 10am-2pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- If you do need to be outdoors, ensure you are wearing a hat, UV protective sunglasses, sunscreen and other sun protective clothing.
- UV protective sunglasses help to prevent against the UV rays penetrating within the eye, which is a location that can get melanoma.
- Broad spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) of at least 30 should be applied generously to all exposed areas of the body every day, even when it is overcast or in the winter. 1 oz or 30 mL is the amount of sunscreen recommended for one entire body application.
- Remember that surfaces like water, snow and sand amplify the sun’s harmful rays. Sunscreen should be worn even during outdoor winter activities
- Sun protective clothing should be worn in addition to sunscreen, especially if you are unable to wear sunscreen. For example, long sleeve shirts when in a pool.
However, as more immunotherapies become available to patients, we expect the survival rates to improve in the next several years.
SELF SKIN ASSESSMENT
Not everyone can see a dermatologist at ease for a complete skin assessment. You can take your skin health into your own hands and do a self-assessment with a mirror every 1-2 months with the following steps:
- Start by facing a wall mirror and check all visible areas: head, neck, chest, and stomach.
- Check your arms, hands, palms, between your fingers, and under the fingernails.
- Lift up your arms to look in the armpit areas.
- Stand with your back to the mirror and use a handheld mirror to look at your back, the backs of your arms, and buttocks.
- Use the handheld mirror to check the backs of your legs.
- Sit down to look at the skin of the front of your thighs, legs, and feet. Don’t forget to check the soles of the feet, toes, and under the toenails.
Remember to keep an eye out for lesions that meet the ABCDE criteria (Link to the ABCDEs mentioned above). If one of your moles meets these criteria, take a photo of it with a ruler and book and appointment to have it assessed by a physician.
If you are worried –please speak to your family doctor and ask them to refer you to a certified dermatologist. Even though the wait list in Canada to see a dermatologist can be long if the consultation requests from your family physician says “Urgent, melanoma is suspected” or if your family doctor calls a dermatologist office directly, a consult is usually expedited and a patient can be seen within days or 1-2 week at the latest. If you are concerned about a mole, a bleeding lesion or a streak – please don’t ignore I and if all fails go to an Emergency Room in a nearby academic center (not a local hospital) to be referred to a dermatologist. Also, teledermatology services such as dermaGO are available if you lack government insurance, if you are abroad or if you cannot wait for your scheduled consultation.