This may not be the Sunshine State, but even in Michigan, skin cancer is a real risk.
“It’s a major concern. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States,” says Henry Ford Macomb family medicine physician Farrah Hafeez, DO. “Even on cloudy days, harmful rays can reflect off of surfaces such as water, cement, sand, and snow. UV protection is needed all year round.”
In fact, about 250 people in Michigan die of melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) every year — the rate of melanoma deaths in Michigan has doubled since 1975.
Basal cell carcinoma – the most common skin cancer – and squamous cell carcinoma may resemble an open sore, a red patch or a wart. Squamous cell carcinoma may crust or bleed. Melanoma will often look like a mole and is usually black or brown, although it can also be pink, red, purple, white or flesh-colored. When caught early, melanoma is usually curable, but if it spreads, it is usually fatal.
“People often believe that skin cancer is ‘not a big deal’ and ‘can simply be removed,’” Dr. Hafeez adds. “This assumption is false. While basal cell and squamous cell are often curable, they can disfigure you. Melanoma, on the other hand, is dangerous and causes the most deaths. Extended sun exposure can have lasting effects. Our young people may not take sun cancer seriously now, but they need to realize that the choices they make can have detrimental effects in the long run.”
Dr. Hafeez advises the following precautions:
- Don’t get sunburned. Sun overexposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.
- Don’t sun tan or use tanning beds.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before venturing outdoors. It should be at least SPF 15 or higher and ‘broad spectrum’ or UVA/UVB coverage. Reapply at least every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. Tight-woven fabrics and dark colors confer the most protection. Wear a wide-brimmed hat that covers your head, face, ears and neck.
- Don’t forget your UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Stay in the shade — especially when the sun's UV rays are most intense, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“Perform regular skin self-examinations so you are familiar with your skin,” she adds. “Consult your physician on how to do the exam and how often. Web sites from the American Academy of Dermatology and The Skin Cancer Foundation can help guide you too. It’s a small investment in time, but it could be lifesaving.”
To connect with a Henry Ford Macomb primary care or specialty physician who meets your unique needs, go to henryfordmacomb.com or call 800-532-2411.