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Important Information About Sun Safety and Skin Cancer

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors. Many summertime activities provide lots of opportunity to soak up the sun. While enjoying the sunshine, exercise caution for optimal skin health.

Amy Albrecht, PA, shares her recommendations for sun safety so you can enjoy summer without worrying about sun damage.
Important Information About Sun Safety and Skin Cancer
Featured Speaker:
Amy Albrecht, PA
Amy is a physician assistant, and she received a college degree, then went on to receive a master's degree. She works alongside our Strecker Cancer Center physicians, and is a nationally certified and state-licensed medical professional.

Melanie Cole (Host): We all know that a sunburn can be very painful, but that's not the most important reason for using sunscreen, and there's a lot you can do to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer. My guest today is Amy Albrecht. She's a physician assistant at Strecker Cancer Center of Memorial Health System. Amy, tell us a little bit about the sun and how damaging it can be to our skin. Since you work at a cancer center, you must see skin cancer all the time. Tell us how damaging it can be.

Amy Albrecht, PA (Guest): We do see skin cancer at the Cancer Center. Protecting your skin from the sun is important for the prevention of skin cancer. Most skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet radiation. UV radiation comes from the sun, and also from indoor tanning beds. UVA rays cause aging of our skin cells and can lead to long-term damage like wrinkles, and UVB rays damage the DNA in our skin cells. These are the rays most likely to cause sunburn and may lead to skin cancer.

Melanie: So we hear we're supposed to use sunscreen, which not everybody always does. Tell us a little bit about sunscreen. There are so many of them on the market, what are we supposed to be looking for?

Amy: Something to help to block the UV rays from reaching our skin. They're measured using Sun Protection Factor, or SPF. You want to find a sunscreen that is broad spectrum, which means it protects from the UVA and UVB rays. Look for a sunscreen with SPF fifteen or higher. Make sure you apply thirty minutes before sun exposure, and reapply every two hours or after sweating or swimming.

Melanie: So what about little infants and such? Can we put sunscreen on them? And what should we be doing to protect them from the sun?

Amy: Infant skin is very sensitive. It's best during the first six months to avoid direct sun exposure and keep the infant in the shade. If the baby must be in the sun, you want to dress in clothing that covers the body and shadows the face with a wide-brimmed hat. Children six months and older should wear sunscreen with SPF thirty or greater. Try to escape the sun by using an umbrella or a tent. Make sure your child is wearing sunscreen and that it's reapplied often. Even on a cloudy or overcast day, we are exposed.

Melanie: So you mentioned number fifteen. People go all the way up to seventy and things like that. Does more equal better protection?

Amy: The higher the number, the better you would be protected from the sun. So fifteen is just the lowest number that you should get, but you're right, you can get all the way to fifty or 100. Just make sure it's over fifteen.

Melanie: So if we're checking our skin for skin cancer, and you know if we used to be in the sun and now we know better, what are we looking for?

Amy: Checking your skin is important, and you should try to do it monthly, and if you were to find something suspicious, I want you to see your primary care provider or dermatology. You're looking for the ABCDE's of melanoma. So A is 'asymmetry.' Do the sides of the mole match? If you were to draw a line down the center, do the halves look similar? Asymmetry is a warning sign that it could be a cancer. B stands for 'border.' Are the borders of the mole smooth and regular? If the edges look uneven or irregular, you should really have them evaluated by a health professional. C is 'color.' A normal mole should be one shade. If they're a variety of shades, that can be another warning sign. D is 'diameter.' Look for moles that are bigger than a pencil eraser. Those can be more concerning. 'Evolution' is E, and that is the mole changing over time? Has this looked the same your whole life? Or all of a sudden are there changes?

Melanie: That's really great advice. So you work in a cancer center and you must see skin cancer all the time, as I said before. What is the most damaging kind?

Amy: There are three main types of skin cancer. There are other types, but three main types. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common, and glioma cell carcinoma is the second most common.

Melanie: So how do we know if we're protected from the sun if we're using our sunscreen or wearing a hat and sunglasses? Is there a way to tell? Like you know, does our skin show spots and things like that, that can tell us that we're damaging it?

Amy: Well that's why it's so important to keep an eye on the skin and do those monthly skin checks. By preventing exposure to the sun, we can best protect our skin. Try to find some shade, especially between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Be covered by wearing sun-protective clothing, protect your face and your eyes with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Sunscreen is a great defense, so remember to wear SPF fifteen or higher, and try to apply the sunscreen thirty minutes before going outdoors. It also needs to be reapplied every two hours or if you swim, sweat, towel off. And another important thing is to avoid tanning beds and sunbathing.

Melanie: That's really important. Just wrap it up for us, Amy, with your best advice about safety in the sun, and protecting ourselves from the cancers that you see every day.

Amy: It's important to seek shade, make sure you're wearing the protective clothing including a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses. Use your sunscreen, make sure you reapply. Keep your newborns out of the sun, keep your kids out of the sun, and keep them safe. Avoid indoor tanning and sunbathing, and also make sure to examine your skin monthly.

Melanie: That's great advice. Thank you, Amy, for being with us so much today. You're listening to Memorial Health Radio with Memorial Health System. For more information please visit That's This is Melanie Cole, thanks so much for listening.