Watch Skin Carefully for Signs of Cancer

Nurse Practitioner Scott Schuldes Says Wearing Sunscreen is a Must  

After long Wisconsin winters, we can’t wait to get outside and feel the warm summer sun on our face, arms and legs. But before heading out, slather on some sunscreen to protect your skin from the dangers of the sun.  

Spending time in the sun without skin protection is a major cause of skin cancer. During the past three decades, more cases of skin cancer have been diagnosed than all other cancers combined. It’s also a cancer that strikes adults of all ages and if not caught early, it can spread to other organs.  

While the term “skin cancer” is used, there are actually three different types that take their name from the skin cell where the cancer develops:  

Melanoma: This is the most serious form of skin cancer, with one American dying from it every 52 seconds. The first sign of melanoma is usually a mole that changes size, shape or color, but other signs include the development of large brown spot with darker speckles or a small lesion with irregular borders. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body – even between your toes or on your scalp.  

Basal cell carcinoma: This is the most common type of skin cancer and normally appears on body parts that get a lot of sun exposure, such as the face or neck. Basal cell carcinomas can appear as a pearly or waxy bump or a flat, flesh-colored brown scar-like lesion.  

Squamous cell carcinoma: This type is also usually found on the sun-exposed parts of your body and commonly appear as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface.  

The best way to catch skin cancer is to do a monthly check of any body moles for signs of change while also being aware of any new skin spots or lesions. It’s also important to have your medical provider check your skin annually as part of your annual physical. He or she can easily see all parts of your body, such as your back, and have more experience spotting what’s normal and what’s not.  

Skin cancer treatment varies depending on the type, location and its development. Some people can have surgery and be done while others – especially if the melanoma spreads to other cells in the body cells – may need more traditional cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.  

Anyone can get skin cancer – even people with darker complexions, which is why wearing sunscreen outdoors is so important. The best advice is to choose a sunscreen that protects your skin from both ultraviolet rays A and B (UVB) radiation. Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) SPF level of between 30 and 50. To make sure you have enough coverage, apply about two tablespoons (or one shot glass) of sunscreen to the exposed parts of your body every two hours, or more frequently if you go swimming or towel off. You can further protect yourself by wearing a hat when you’re outdoors since it not only provides some protection for your face, but also the top of your head. And even if the sun does not feel very strong in January, it’s important to wear sunscreen anytime you’re going to be outside – no matter what the calendar says.  

If you use a tanning bed, stop. No matter what salons may advertise, tanning is not safe. It damages your skin by exposing it to harmful ultraviolet ray radiation, which damages the body’s skin cells, leading to the development of cancer.  

Enjoy your time outdoors this summer, but be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen, reapply it often and wear a hat. Your skin will thank you.  

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner at ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.