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Preventing skin cancer

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Preventing Skin Cancer

Al Waller: Now, while warm, long, sunny days are one of the perks of springtime, it’s important to remember that the sun and its ultraviolet rays can really pose some serious health threats.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller. With us today to discuss some effective ways to minimize health risks associated with the sun is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®. So Mihaela, could you give us a sense of just how common some of these sun-related illnesses are?

Mihaela Vincze: Sun-related illness is more common than you might think, Al. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 9,500 people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. In 2022, it is estimated that over 7,650 deaths will be attributed to melanoma, which is a type of skin cancer. The good news is that these sun-related deaths and illnesses can be prevented.

Al Waller: Those are some astounding figures for sure but, then again, it’s encouraging to know that some of these cases can be averted. You mentioned melanoma, and I think most are aware that it is a type of cancer, but could you take us through exactly how it develops?

Mihaela Vincze: That’s right, Al. In fact, it is the fifth most common type of skin cancer and the deadliest. The primary cause of melanoma and other skin cancers is exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, but this exposure can also come from tanning beds, or sunlamps.

Al Waller: Fortunately, I was never a big fan of that “fake & bake” practice. And while melanoma is an extremely dangerous sun-related illness, at least we know it can be better treated when caught through early detection. Could you take us through some of the warning signs that might help with early detection?

Mihaela Vincze: Some of the warning signs that might help with early detection can come from remembering the ABCDE's to identify melanoma early on.

Al Waller: Unfortunately, having worked as a lifeguard on the beach, I became all too familiar with the ABCDE’s and now submit to an annual check-up with my dermatologist. However, for the uninitiated, would you mind taking us through what each of these are?

Mihaela Vincze: Sure thing. “A” is for asymmetry. Asymmetry is one way you can tell a possible melanoma from a normal mole because chances are it won’t be a regular round shape but rather asymmetrical. Next, “B” is for border because melanomas tend to have rough edges, while common moles normally have smooth borders.

Al Waller: Good point there – that’s a major one. What other signs should folks be looking for?

Mihaela Vincze: The “C” is for color as melanomas may have different shades of brown, tan, black, or even red, blue, or white. “D” is for diameter or dark because it is important to detect sizeable lesions and those that are darker than others.

Finally, “E” is for evolving. Any change in size, shape, color, or elevation of a spot or mole may be a warning sign of a melanoma.

Al Waller: I think we can all agree that the ABCDE’s are a great guide for understanding what to look for. And again, I think it’s worth repeating that early detection is really key to increasing your chances for a cure. If you should detect a suspicious-looking mole, you’ll absolutely want to reach out to your dermatologist as soon as possible.

Now that we know how to catch early signs of skin cancer, what are some measures people should take to protect themselves?

Mihaela Vincze: Good question, Al, because skin cancer and other sun-related illnesses can be prevented. Some effective ways to protect yourself are to seek shade when the sun is strongest – that’s between 10am and 4pm. It also means to reapply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every two hours and directly after sweating or swimming. Always wear protective clothing—hats and sunglasses are also effective. But to your point, if you ever do have a concern, absolutely reach out to your dermatologist. Procrastination is not encouraged.

Al Waller: You can’t be too cautious with something like that. And to your point here, the hat and sunglasses for sure – I don’t leave home without them. These are all easy and commonsense suggestions, and when you think about it – simply taking the appropriate measures, you can still catch rays and enjoy the sunshine.

Are there any other benefits from avoiding the sun’s rays?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, you will avoid premature skin aging by avoiding the sun’s rays. Sun damage, also known as photodamage, is caused by the sun’s UVA and UVB light and can start affecting your skin as early as in your early twenties. Some signs of photodamage include wrinkling, uneven skin texture, and broken capillaries.

The good news is that it is never too late to practice good sun protection to prevent future photodamage (or sun damage) through the tips we discussed earlier - like the sunscreen, staying in shade, wearing protective clothing – all that will really help.

Al Waller: If not for your health, you may want to protect yourselves from the sun for personal appearance and vanity. Unfortunately, there were a lot of young women I knew back in the day that instead of using sunscreen, they opted for baby oil, as well as the use of reflective panels to get that deep tan. Years later, I can tell you every one of them harbors some very serious solar regret – and with or without hindsight, avoiding skin cancer and preventing wrinkles is definitely going to be one win in everybody's playbook.

We’ve talked about the potential harm that can come from sun exposure, but are there any benefits from soaking up the sun’s rays?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, there are some benefits. The sun can help regulate our circadian rhythms. The more daylight exposure you can get, the better your body will produce melatonin when it is time to go to sleep. The sun is also a great source of vitamin D, which is really important for your bones and immune system.

Surprisingly, sun exposure might help treat or prevent mental health conditions as well. Sunlight actually cues special areas in the retina that trigger the release of serotonin—which plays a role in regulating mood, emotions, appetite, and digestion.

Al Waller: It’s good to know that the sun has some pretty significant health benefits. To that point, being a life-long native of the Northeast coast, I’m well-acquainted with the impact sunshine can have on one’s mental state and disposition. Those long, cold winters we have here can be brutal on your psyche! Any final thoughts before we wrap it up?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, the American Academy of Dermatology has some great information if you want to learn more. If you have concerns about your skin, you should see a dermatologist.

Al Waller: Good points and important advice all around, Mihaela. As always, a pleasure having you on board.

We hope you’ll join us for future episodes, including the upcoming episode on inflation. Also, in case you missed it, check out recent episodes on strategies to support your mental health, and the power of hope. If you have comments, feedback, or ideas for future shows, please reach out to [email protected].

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.