I am (literally) writing this from the doctor’s office, where I am waiting to have a procedure done that will cut out the skin cancer I recently discovered on my body.
Being a native northern Minnesotan that has not experienced the sun’s rays like the Southwesterners do, I was diligent about UV exposure but, evidently, not diligent enough. While this is the “best” kind of skin cancer to get, it is definitely better to not get it at all!
Sun in the Southwest is brutal
The sun in the South and Southwest is brutal! My husband and I have been park hosts for six years in the winter months in the Southwest. With all our outside work, I was careful to always wear a hat and sunscreen. Well, most of the time.
When I was slathering on the SPS 70 sunscreen, turns out that I was totally missing my upper lip. Up popped a bump. It took months to get an appointment with a dermatologist. However, I will say, it’s a lot easier to get a dermatologist appointment in Arizona than it is in Minnesota!
The biopsy confirmed that it was basal cell carcinoma and directly a result of the sun’s UV rays. Bummer. Big bummer. Could it have been all those years as a child with no sunscreen? Maybe. Or a combo of both. Who knows? Who in my generation even heard of sunscreen in their youth?
I had the opportunity to ask a few questions of the amazing surgeon, Joshua Tournas, MD, as he was expertly removing the cancerous cells.
Are people in the South more prone to skin cancer than those in Northern climates?
Dr. Tournas replied that the closer you are to the equator, the stronger the sun and UV rays are, but even in Northern climates there is exposure to harmful UV rays. He said you need protection everywhere, no matter the geographic location.
What should RVers know?
Dr. Tournas said that RVers are probably outdoors and in the sun more than the average person and need to be extra diligent about covering their skin and using sunscreen.
When should you first see a dermatologist?
Have a baseline full body examination by age 50.
What else is important for RVers?
Dr. Tournas mentioned the need to be aware of the sun when traveling. Just because you are inside a car or RV does not mean that you are safe from exposure to harmful UV rays.
Arizona car dealers usually add UV protection film to cars, but Northern cars may not be as protected and car side windows vary tremendously. Windshields are a bit more protected— the layer of plastic in the windshield absorbs almost all the UVB rays that cause sunburn but not all the UVA rays that cause skin damage. A 2007 study showed that people that had left-side skin cancer spent the most hours driving. For more info on vehicle glass and the studies on UV protection click here.
What type of sunscreen is best?
While SPS 30 is okay, thick lotion-like cream is preferred to sprays.
A few more facts about skin cancer:
Who is prone to get skin cancer?
- Light, fair skin tone
- Skin that burns or freckles with a history of sunburn
- Blond or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
- People who have more than 50 moles
- Dark or irregular-shaped moles
- Used tanning machines
- Had organ transplant
- Blood relative had skin cancer
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
Prevent skin cancer and protect yourself
- Use sunscreen. Lotion is best with at least SPS 30 or higher. If using spray sunscreen, make sure to get all exposed skin areas.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours.
- Use waterproof sunscreen if swimming or boating. The sun’s rays are magnified in the water.
- Wear sunscreen clothing—it really works!
- Wear long-sleeve shirts, pants, hat and sunglasses.
- Wear a large-brimmed hat when outdoors.
- Try to stay out of the sun when the UV rays are the strongest. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., try to stay in the shade.
- Do regular skin self-exams.
- Examine your body front, back and sides in a full-length mirror
- Check the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror
- Check arms—front, back and hand palms
- Check back and bottom
- Check the backs of your legs
What to look for
- Changes in moles
- A- Asymmetry—One half of a mole different than the other half
- B- Border—Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border
- C- Color—Varies from one area of the mole to the other
- D- Diameter—Size enlarging- usually the size of an eraser but could be smaller
- E- Evolving—Looks different from the rest of the moles or is changing
- Bumps that grow and bleed, don’t heal or are crusty
- Spots, bumps or moles that are itching, bleeding or a shiny pink
- Age spots that are changing
Types of skin cancer
- Basal Cell Carcinoma—The most common type of skin cancer. It rarely spreads but can go deep into the tissue.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma—The second most common form.
- Melanoma—The deadliest form of skin cancer and may appear without warning.
See your dermatologist
- Do a baseline check with a dermatologist for a full-body check.
- Set up future skin check appointments with a dermatologist as advised.
- Make an appointment immediately if you see any skin changes.
- A biopsy will be performed if an area is suspicious.
Easily treatable if caught early
- One in five will get skin cancer in their lifetime
- All skin types can get skin cancer
- Must be treated early for the best results
Lather up and save your life
Lather up with sunscreen, protect your skin and see a dermatologist. It just may save your life.