Q: “My brother was just diagnosed with melanoma. What can I do to reduce my chances of getting it too?”
Answered by Dr. Ciro Martins, Board Certified Dermatologist
First, I’m sorry to hear about your brother’s diagnosis; I wish him a swift recovery. I’m happy you are seeking information on preventive measures, for the risk of developing skin cancer can be exponentially decreased by taking the right precautions.
Although skin cancers can be deadly, they are often completely curable when diagnosed early. Each year millions of people get skin cancer, and contrary to popular belief, anyone can get it. Risk factors that significantly increase your risk of getting melanoma include family history, light skin, having many moles and sun exposure, which is the only preventable risk factor. As a specialist in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of skin cancers, I recommend the following measures to reduce your risk of melanoma.
Protect from the Sun – The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer. Therefore, the best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun. I recommend generous applications of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ to exposed skin every day, even when it’s cloudy. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from UVA and UVB rays and should be reapplied every 2 hours (more frequently if you are swimming or sweating). At least 1 ounce (2 tablespoons or the volume of a shot glass or golf ball) of sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outside. Wear sun-protective clothing: long sleeves, pants, broad-brimmed hats, and UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes. Seek shade as much as possible when outdoors, especially between 10 AM and 2 PM.
Avoid Tanning Beds – Ultraviolet rays from tanning beds are actually more damaging to your skin than sun rays and can exponentially increase your risk of developing skin cancer. If you want to look tan, use a quality self-tanning product. Self-tanning products have come a long way in recent years and can mimic a very natural-looking, sun-kissed glow.
Get an Annual Skin Exam with a Dermatology Professional – Detecting skin cancer in its earlier stages greatly increases the likelihood of survival. Most skin cancers are visible but can be difficult to identify by the untrained eye. Therefore, annual skin exams with a dermatology professional are crucial. A full-body skin exam is a thorough evaluation of the skin – from head to toe, in spots that are difficult to examine on your own – to detect suspicious marks or moles before they become dangerous to your health.
Engage in regular Self-Exams – We also recommend you check your own skin at least once a quarter for new or changed marks, moles or lesions. Contact your dermatologist immediately if you notice new or suspicious spots on your skin or if any existing spots appear to have changed significantly in shape, size, color or texture.
Consider Mole Mapping – Mole mapping is a valuable tool in the fight against skin cancer. It provides baseline imagery used to identify changes in previously existing moles and detect new ones. Mole Mapping enables you and your dermatologist to follow your moles and lesions more closely to detect early changes. Mole mapping is highly recommended for patients who have a personal or family history of melanoma, have more than 30 moles, have unusual-looking moles, or have a history of previously removed pre-cancerous moles.
Dr. Ciro Martins is a recognized leader in medical dermatology, infectious diseases of the skin, autoimmune skin disorders, topical dermatology, and overall skin wellness. As a specialist in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of skin cancers, Dr. Martins has treated thousands of patients with compassionate, personalized care. Board-certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the Brazilian Society of Dermatology, Dr. Martins trained at both the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.