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Dr. Paul Lubitz reviews: 5 things you can do for skin cancer prevention month

Dr. Paul Lubitz – “The 5 things you can do for Skin Cancer Detection Month”

The American Society of Dermatologists and the Canadian Dermatology Association has deemed the month of May – Melanoma / Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. In Canada, there are over 5000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed annually, and each year, almost 1000 patients will die from their melanoma. 5 million Americans are treated every year for melanoma, with 70,000 new cases being reported per year. Melanoma can arise from genetic defects, but it is most often caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation stemming from both natural and manmade sources.

To discuss how readers can best protect themselves from melanoma, we asked Dr. Paul Lubitz, a dermatologist who owns and runs Art of SKIN Dermatology, Laser and Cosmetic Surgery clinic, located in Canmore, Canada, to provide some guidance.

Dr. Lubitz has over 15 years of experience preventing and treating sufferers of melanoma and the other types of skin cancer, and he tells us that the most important defense against melanoma is to educate everyone on the critical steps they need to take to prevent themselves from developing this deadly disease in the first place.

To discuss how readers can best protect themselves from melanoma, we asked Dr. Paul Lubitz, a dermatologist who owns and runs Art of SKIN Dermatology, Laser and Cosmetic Surgery clinic, located in Canmore, Canada, to provide some guidance.

Dr. Lubitz has over 15 years of experience preventing and treating sufferers of melanoma and the other types of skin cancer, and he tells us that the most important defense against melanoma is to educate everyone on the critical steps they need to take to prevent themselves from developing this deadly disease in the first place.

  • Regularly apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher, especially during the spring and summer months but don’t forget the winter months.

“Melanoma can develop due to any short or long-term contact with ultraviolet radiation,” Dr. Paul Lubitz explains. “That means that every time you go outside without sun protection, you are putting yourself at increased risk. However, there is one very simple step you can take to drastically reduce that risk: apply sunscreen every day, and NOT only on those days that you THINK you might be in the skin for a prolonged period. So often a person ends up being in the sun for much longer than they anticipated and without appropriate sunscreen. The straight forward answer is daily application of sunscreen.”

Applying sunscreen is especially necessary for those people with additional risk factors for developing skin cancer such as those who work outside or often participate in outdoor sports and activities. “Here in the Bow Valley region of the Rocky Mountains [in Canada], we see considerably higher incidences of skin cancer than in the general population,” Dr. Lubitz explains. “Living at higher altitudes has proven links to increased risk of developing skin cancer due to the greater UV exposure. Also, fresh snow can increase UV exposure a staggering 100%, so patients with a lot of snow associated activities have to be particularly careful even in winter.

For these at-risk groups, I recommend a daily sunscreen with an SPF of +50. This is a much safer preventative approach than the more generally recommended SPF 30.”

People should also be educated on how to apply sunscreen, how often to reapply sunscreen and know the basic differences between the two main types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. For example, when using a chemical sunscreen, it is best to wait 30 minutes after applying the sunscreen before going outside, because it takes time for the sunscreen to absorb into your skin and offer the maximum protection. However, when you using a physical sunscreen, this 30 minute wait time before exposure is not necessary. Also it is important that you apply sunscreen to all bare or exposed skin: do not forget your ears, the back of your neck, the back of your hands or the back of your legs, and reapply as per the sunscreen manufacturer’s guidelines that will differ depending on whether you are using a chemical or physical sunscreen.

As Dr. Lubitz explains, “everyone should familiarize themselves with which sunscreen is best for their particular skin type: light or dark skin, sensitive, or not”. Physical sunscreens are very well tolerated by most skin types, and are often preferred by people with sensitive skin who are irritated by chemicals. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens are quite variable as compared to physical sunscreens that contain either zinc oxide, titanium oxide or often a combination of the two. UV protection of either type of sunscreen depends on several factors including concentration of the active ingredients and the appropriate amount being applied.

  • Educate children about UV sunlight and its dangers.

“The fight against melanoma starts in people’s earliest years,” Dr. Paul Lubitz tells us. “If you begin applying sunscreen at 18 years old, that’s 18 years during which you have been exposed directly to unprotected ultraviolet radiation; your chances of developing melanoma later in life increase drastically.”

Thus, it is important to educate children on the importance of protecting their skin from a young age. Children should be taught how to apply sunscreen by their parents, and information about the possible side effects of going outside without sunscreen should be made available to children regularly through sun awareness programs in schools.

The use of tanning beds by young people and teenagers (particularly vulnerable and impressionable ages) should be strongly discouraged as there is strong direct evidence linking tanning bed use to increased melanoma risk. The risk of tanning bed use and melanoma risk is also applicable to adults and therefore education on the risks of tanning bed use is important for all ages.

“When it comes to protecting the next generation, an ounce of prevention today is worth a pound of cure tomorrow” Dr. Paul Lubitz tells us.

  • Use social media to spread the word about skin cancer detection and protection

One of the most effective ways to build awareness today about important subjects such as melanoma and skin cancer, especially among young people, is the use of social media. During Skin Cancer Prevention and Detection Month, tweets and Facebook posts about how to defend your self will definitely be among the most favorited (twitter language).

By using social media to spread the word about both the importance of skin cancer prevention and protection and how average people can take steps to protect themselves, you can make a difference in the lives of those who matter most: your family and friends.

  • Visit an accredited dermatologist regularly.

Another important step people can take is to schedule regular visits with a dermatologist. “I see it too often,” Dr. Paul Lubitz tells us. “People put visits off, and by the time I get to see them, an abnormal mole has become a melanoma or worse still, their melanoma has advanced to a stage where it is much harder to treat than if they had come in 6 or 12 months earlier.”

Any defined changes to how moles look, mild or major, or the sudden development of new skin lesions, should be met with an immediate visit to a dermatologist’s office: “Every second you don’t act, the melanoma could be getting worse. Left untreated, melanoma can easily spread elsewhere in the body, and when this happens, the patient does not survive for very long.” Thus, it is imperative that people schedule regular dermatologist appointments. Making an appointment at least every year is recommended for those people with family histories of skin cancer, for anyone who spends a significant amount of time outside and especially for those who live at higher altitudes AND spend a lot of time outside.

A dermatologist can not only examine your skin, but they can help educate or review with you the characteristic features of your moles, in addition to precancer and skin cancer lesions that you need to be aware of for your own skin examinations.

  • Self-examine every month

You should learn the signs and symptoms of melanoma and perform monthly head-to-toe self-checks that ensure no signs of the disease are present. The steps of a self -examination are fairly simple and some basic information to get you started can be found at SkinCancer.org. A monthly check – which takes 5 to 10 minutes – can mean the difference between catching the early signs of melanoma or catching them too late.

These 5 steps can all be taken during Melanoma / Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month to help protect you, your friends and your family from skin cancer.

We thank Dr. Paul Lubitz for consulting on this article, and for his continuing work as a physician, educator and health care advocate in the fight against melanoma and skin cancer.

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