May is Skin Cancer Prevention Month

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Photo: Dr. Ellen H. Frankel, MD wearing a sunscreen suit.

May is here. Warmer temperatures, outdoor barbecues, beach visits and outdoor activities in the sun can only mean one thing. You are at a higher risk for skin cancer! You may say “not me!”. I tan, I don’t burn. No matter who you are, you are at risk of developing skin cancer. There are several different types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer.

Although there are over 5 million cases of skin cancer diagnoses in the United States each year, skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Approximately 90 percent of skin cancers are due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It’s important to learn to protect yourself and your loved ones.  Prevention methods can save lives.

So many of us think it will never happen to us. But it does. And it did. To me.

I had my first case of basal cell cancer twenty-five years ago, on my nose. I thought it was a pimple. It wouldn’t go away and kept bleeding. Not being prone to pimples, I decided to get it checked. Turns out I had basal cell skin cancer on my nose and over my upper right lip. I would not have guessed. Treatment included digging it out. Yes, that’s what they do. You have to have it dug out and that is scary. I worried about scarring and if they got it all. Pathologists have to test the tissue during surgery to see if they got it all. Am I scaring you yet?

A few years later I got squamous cell cancer on my ear. This was treated with another surgery, a “Mose Method” which also included digging out the skin layers to get the cancer cells. Meanwhile every six months or sooner I am checked to see if any new lesions show up. You see, you never are really cured of it, because it can pop up at any time from past exposure when you were younger.  Only preventative maintenance and a constant vigil protect you. Catching it early is the best hope.

The fears and realities of skin cancer hit me like a ton of bricks. I loved going to the beach and soaking up the ocean sun. How could a light blond woman with green eyes who is of Italian descent get this? Well, anyone can. I kept thinking, “Is the sun my enemy”?

The skin cancer went away but made a reoccurrence five years later again in my nose. This took another surgery with skin having to be removed from elsewhere to prevent a large scar. No kidding, I had a huge scar and needed laser surgery after to reduce it. Was I scared? Yes, of course I was.

During this time, I did not sunbathe like prior days and was wary of any sun exposure. My prevention methods included using 30 SPF sunscreen every day and especially on times when I would be outside at a barbecue or event.

Carrying sunscreen in my purse was a must. Sitting under an umbrella was a necessity and I became the queen of hats. I have now accumulated, and grown to love, every type of hat under the sun. I have my dermatologist and dear friend Dr. Ellen Frankel to thank for keeping me in tune with the latest sun screens and prevention methods.

Dr. Ellen Frankel is a champion in skin prevention, not only as one of the leading dermatologists in Rhode Island, but also as a cancer survivor, herself. She has battled her own bouts with skin cancer. Recently, she underwent surgery for melanoma. I’m happy to say they detected it early and she is recuperating on her way to Dubai right now (more later on that story).

So, you see, everyone and anyone can be at risk.

Here are some tips to prevent Skin Cancer:

1.          Seek shade, during late morning through mid-afternoon.

2.          Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.

3.          Wear a hat with a wide brim to cover your head and face. (try SPF 50 hats)

4.          Make sure your sunglasses have UVA and UVB ray protection.

5.          Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and both UA and UVA (broad spectrum protection)

6.          Always reapply sunscreen every 2 hrs. and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.

7.          Educate your young children and teens about the dangers of over exposure to the sun.

8.          Warn your teens and children of the dangers of tanning booths and ultra violet rays.

The sun provides us warmth, sunshine, daylight, beauty and the necessities of life. It is not our enemy. Let’s not make it be.

Be prepared, be safe and be healthy!




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