By Dr. Travis Kidner
This summer, be safe out there! With the warm weather approaching there are many backyard barbeques and trips to the beach to be had, but with a few simple precautions we can protect ourselves.
UV radiation from the sun and indoor tanning lamps are the leading cause of melanoma and other skin cancers worldwide.
I am a surgical oncologist whose practices focuses on melanoma.
I am also a melanoma survivor. Since my diagnosis, I have shared my message and tips on sun safety with as many people as I can.
This year alone there will be 77,000 new cases of melanoma in the US. In general, the lag time between a sun burn and the development of a skin cancer (or even worse, wrinkles!) is around 20 years. Your future skin is counting on you this summer.
My first tip is that there is no such thing as a healthy tan. That red glow you are experiencing on your skin is actually caused by damage to your DNA from the UV radiation. I used to be guilty of this myself back in my teenage years, when I would go to a tanning salon to get that “healthy base” before heading to the beach.
No one should be using a tanning salon. Research now suggests that people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent. You are not protecting yourself by getting that “healthy base” tan.
The second tip involves sunscreen and UV protection. While it is best to stay in the shade and avoid direct sunlight during the midday hours, we all know this can be difficult during these upcoming summer months.
When out in the sun, wear sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. I recommend sunscreens that are zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based. But remember to reapply if you have been swimming or have been outside for prolonged periods of time. Not surprisingly, the sunscreen will not protect you while it’s still in the bottle.
My third tip involves not only getting to know your own skin, but also the skin of your significant other. While we are able to monitor own skin for changes, nearly half of your skin is located in places not easily seen by yourself.
To get around this problem, my mentor always advised his patients to get their significant others completely naked once a month and to map out and monitor any moles or skin lesions that they had changes in their appearance. This advice seems to be backed by recent research that suggests single men with melanoma tend to present at later stages of the disease.
What signs or changes should you be looking for? When thinking about melanoma, always remember the A, B, C, D, E’s.
• “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
• “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
• “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
• “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
• “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Any concerns or questions regarding a skin lesion should be brought to the attention of a dermatologist. Melanoma that is detected in the early stages, like mine was, is highly treatable. However once a melanoma has traveled to distant organs the five-year survival is only 15 percent.
This summer have fun and enjoy these months in the sun, but remember to be safe. As a survivor and a surgeon, my message to you is simple, wear sunscreen, never use a tanning bed, and bring any changes in your skin to the attention of your friendly dermatologist. Your future skin will thank you.
KO’AN Santa Monica will host a skin cancer awareness event on Thursday, June 26 from 5-8 pm. Enjoy cocktails and delicious bites as experts explore sun damage and anti-aging topics. It will be hosted by Dr. Barbara Hayden and Dr. Chia Chi Kao MD; guess speaker is Dr. Travis Kidner – surgical oncologist who specializes in the latest technology diagnosing and preventing melanoma. Lecture space is limited. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. KO’AN Santa Monica is located at 1301 20th Street, Suite 150A, Santa Monica 90404. For more information, call 310.315.3022 or visit koancenter.com.