You don’t have to spend all your time enjoying the sun and sand to put yourself at risk for sun damage. In fact, the intermittent sun we experience here in Nebraska can sometimes be even more dangerous because we are often unprepared and go unprotected from the sunniest days in spring or summer.

While it’s critical to use shade, clothing, and sunscreen during all seasons of the year to protect your skin and prevent sunburn or other damage, it becomes even more critical during warmer months when people are outdoors more.

Your chances of skin damage or developing skin cancer increases with every sunburn. Other signs of skin damage include:

  • Wrinkles
  • Excessive dryness and cracking
  • Changes in skin pigmentation, such as age spots and freckles
  • Loss of skin elasticity and tone
  • Rough texture or uneven skin
  • Blotchiness

Remember too much sun is not the only way to damage your skin. Pollutants in the air, including smoke, cause damage, too. Other factors like dehydration, poor nutrition, and your overall health can also affect skin health.

Your primary care provider can address a wide range of skin problems and conditions that help to prevent and treat skin damage.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. And it’s on the rise. While anybody, with any skin tone and of any age, can develop skin cancer, the following factors put people at higher risk:

  • UV exposure from the sun or from tanning bed usage
  • Blonde or red hair, light complexion, and light eye color (blue or green)
  • Moles, especially more than 50 moles on your body
  • Family history of skin cancer or abnormal moles
  • Personal history of sunburns, especially in childhood

But it’s important to know, not all skin cancers are the same. 

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer.  Roughly 80% of basal cell carcinoma occurs on the face and head. This type of skin cancer can be locally invasive and destructive of skin and surrounding structures. 

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second-most common type of skin cancer. It can present as a papule, plaque, or nodule and can be rough, smooth, or ulcerated.  This wide variety of possibilities is why it is important to have a professional look at and biopsy any suspicious lesion to determine what it is. 

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. In the United States, it is the fifth-most common cancer in both men and women, and its incidence rate increases with age. Early diagnosis is crucial. If not diagnosed early, melanoma can spread quickly to other parts of the body and become deadly. While only about 2% of all skin cancers are melanomas, they account for most of the deaths from skin cancer.

Non-melanoma cancers usually occur in sun-exposed areas that accumulate sun exposure over time. On the contrary, melanomas tend to be associated with intense, intermittent sun exposure and sunburns, and they do frequently occur in areas exposed to the sun rarely or only sporadically.

When to See a Doctor

Skin cancer is very treatable – and curable – if found early. While PCH recommends an annual checkup that may include a full-body check for moles, it can also be beneficial to follow the “ABCDE” rule of thumb:

A stands for ASYMMETRY (one half is unlike the other)

B stands for BORDER –Look for an irregular border.

C stands for COLOR (multiple shades of red, blue, black, gray, or white) – Have your doctor look at any moles that vary in color from one area to another.

D stands for DIAMETER (greater than, or equal to, the size of a pencil eraser – about 6 mm)

E stands for EVOLVING (new or changing) – Has the mole changed in size, shape, or color? Has it become itchy or painful?

In general, if you find any spot, patch, or mole that looks different or is changing or itching, make an appointment with your primary care provider.

Skin Protection

You have the power to protect your skin by limiting your exposure to UV light, wearing sun protective clothing, and using broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30-50 every day.

Taking care of your skin from an early age is also very important. Parents should use sunscreen on their kids. Individuals who have had five or more severe sunburns in childhood or adolescence have an estimated two-fold greater risk of developing melanoma, the potentially deadly form of skin cancer.

Sunscreens should be applied about 15-30 minutes before sun exposure and then repeatedly throughout the day. Sunscreen lasts 90-120 minutes, depending on whether you sweat or get wet.

Using the “teaspoon rule” may be helpful. This rule says you should apply:

  • 1 teaspoon to the face and neck area
  • 2 teaspoons to the front and back torso
  • 1 teaspoon to each upper extremity
  • 2 teaspoons to each lower extremity

Wear hats, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing. Seek shade during midday hours (10 am – 4 pm) and avoid tanning bed use.

If you would like to see a provider at Pender Medical Clinic or one of our satellite clinics. Call 402-385-3033 to schedule an appointment or learn more.