Sunday, January 29, 2023

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I’m writing this from the doctor’s office. Snowbirds, beware of skin cancer

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!

Biopsy

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.

Self-check

  • 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.

##RVT1081

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Lynne
1 month ago

Good information. Another thing to be aware of, regarding the sun, is eye protection. When we moved south, the eye doctor said there is a higher incidence of earlier cataracts in the south. He said that people aren’t as careful with wearing sunglasses as they should be.

Neal Davis
1 month ago

Great information! Thank you, Nanci! Always good to remind people of the value of sunscreen and covering up when in the sun for extended periods.

Jayne
1 month ago

Nanci, good info! We probably look like twins, as I also just last month had a basal cell removed from my upper lip. Consistent with sunscreen use, but maybe not so much on my lip edge, apparently. Hoping you heal quickly.

Folks, insist your dermatologist check if you have doubts about an odd bump; I had raised questions about this several times in exams, but only recently was it tested by a new doc.

Jane
1 month ago

I feel for you Nanci as I just had the same treatment a year ago but mine was on the side of my nose. You have to be very careful as the 6 month check up showed that I also had just small little areas that could develop easily into more of those basal carcinomas. I underwent a light treatment that gives you the worst sunburn of your life but after all the pain and peeling you are good! Best sunscreen is the one the dermatologists recommend. And if you are a person with allergies like me and constantly are wiping your nose…put that on everytime you go out the door. I always wear a sun hat..even on cloudy days. Best of luck!

Ozzie
1 month ago

Good article and unfortunately many will read it and not follow the advice. I’ve had 4 procedures, both invasive and laser on both lips and my left ear. I have another spot that needs attention on my lip and it will be treated in January. Do exactly what the article advises and be diligent! These procedures are usually short but they are NO FUN.

My add to this piece is find lip balms (or lipstick) with SPF 30 or better and USE IT!

Diane Mc
1 month ago

Husband got Squamous Cell from a drug he took for 3 months that had a half life 18 months. Had a great dermatologist that referred him to a great surgeon. On his legs, several patches on one, one on the other. Had to use a wound vac. All ok, no more incidents so far. As a side note, that was the least of the side effects of the drug. Almost killed him. Although all were listed as side effects, some of his doctors aren’t believers, while others say…oh yes know all about that drug. Shouldn’t have been on it for 3 months, possibly not at all. This was 6 yrs ago and made for 18 months of hell. As you can tell, still boils our blood!

Fred
1 month ago

I’ve had two Squamous Cell Carcinoma’s removed with Moes surgery & the dermatologist said they were likely the result of exposure as long as 30-50 years ago. They are a very slow developing cancer & nothing to panic about if caught relatively early. Now, in my late seventies, I’m of the opinion that I’ll be long gone before any current exposure develops into cancer.

wanderer
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred

True, there is a lag time, but I’ve had several outbreaks, and they were from exposure 6-20 years prior, certainly did not take 30-50 years to develop. Would hate to have someone see that comment and decide “well, I’m over 50, no worries”. Removal of these things is painful and costly.

I’ve also had a friend whose cancer was ‘nothing to panic about’ until it reached way deep and required major surgery at a distant medical center.

I’m not going to go nuts putting on sunscreen every 2 hours, but I am taking reasonable precautions. Everybody needs to get their Vitamin D time in the sun, but after the first hour, do some covering up and lotioning up.

Ozzie
1 month ago
Reply to  wanderer

DO NOT wait an hour. You can burn in as little as 15 minutes.

John S
1 month ago

This is very likely from long past sun exposure. The ones I’m now having removed are from my pre-sunscreen life.

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