IU Simon Cancer Center melanoma expert: Simple steps to practice safe fun in the sun can save your life

INDIANAPOLIS -- (May 04, 2011) -- Bill Wooden loves spending warm spring and summer days fishing, mowing his lawn or doing chores around his small farm. But before heading outdoors, he dutifully protects himself from the harmful and even potentially fatal effects of the sun.

And he urges all Hoosiers to do the same.

“People may think they’re safe in more northern geographic regions such as Indiana,” said Dr. Wooden, a physician at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. “The reality is we’re all at risk for skin cancer.”

May, which is Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, is a good time for people to look for signs of skin cancer and to ensure they are doing what they can to protect themselves. Dr. Wooden said people need to take action to protect themselves not just on blazing hot days, but as part of their daily routines -- even on partly cloudy days. “You don’t wear your seatbelt just when it’s rainy or icy,” said Wooden, also a professor of surgery at the IU School of Medicine.

Wooden offers six tips for people to guard against the damaging effects of the sun:

 1. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, or preferably 30. Dr. Wooden said it is important to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside to ensure it dries before you are in the sun and start to sweat.

2. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to feet, legs, scalp and other body parts beyond the arms and shoulders that are exposed to the sun.

3. Wear sunglasses with UV protection and also provide them to your children.

4. Consider wearing long sleeves or pants. UV-protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats offer extra protection.

5. Avoid prolonged sun exposure when the sun’s rays are the strongest, from around 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

6. Pale-skinned people are at the greatest risk, but they are not the only ones.  

Wooden said others including African-Americans may have a false sense of security by thinking they are not at any risk.

Indiana had an estimated 1,200 new cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, in 2010, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 8,700 in 2010 Americans died from melanoma -- a cancer that has a cure rate of 95 percent or more if detected and treated early.  

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common forms of skin cancer, and while less deadly than melanoma they are dangerous and can cause disfigurement.

Skin cancers may have different appearances: They can be small, shiny, waxy, scaly and rough, firm and red, crusty or bleeding, or include other features. Here are some of the features to watch for:  

- A, asymmetry: Half of the mole or birthmark does not match the other half.

- B, border: Edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.

- C, color: The color isn’t the same all over but may have differing shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white or blue.

- D, diameter: The area is larger than six millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is getting bigger.