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Here Comes the Sun


Having a sun-kissed look or bronze glow has long been a symbol of health and vigor in some cultures. In fact, many studies show suntanned people are rated as more attractive than their paler counterparts. But at what cost?

Dr. Jehanzeb Riaz, a hematologist/oncologist with Covenant Medical Group, says excessive sun exposure can lead to several skin problems and some of them can be deadly, like melanoma, and he warns against too much sun exposure, specifically UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays.

“Melanoma is one of the most deadly skin cancers,” he said. “It’s the fifth leading cause of death in men and sixth leading cause of death in women in the U.S. And rates of melanoma are rising rapidly, especially in younger people.

“We are in West Texas, there are a lot of opportunities for over-exposure to the sun,” Dr. Riaz said. “We have a large agricultural community, people working outdoors, so over their lifetime, their risk of getting melanoma is significantly higher.”

Here are a handful of risks to consider:

  • Excessive sun exposure or tanning skin in a tanning salon. Remember, exposure is cumulative over your lifetime.
    • People at the equator have higher risk as the sun’s ultraviolet rays are at their maximum.
  • About 10 percent of melanoma is from a genetic predisposition.
    • The highest risk is in the Caucasian population, followed by the Hispanic population, with the lower risk being in the Black or darker-skinned population.
    • Fairer-skinned, blonde-haired and people with freckles tend to have a higher risk of melanoma than others.
  • Cigarette smoking is not directly related, but smokers have other risk factors that give them a higher chance of having melanoma in their lifetime.

For prevention, doctors suggest individuals should:

  • Limit your exposure to the sun and avoid burning. Consider wearing long sleeves and hats when exposed.
  • Seek the shade at playgrounds, public pools and other frequently visited areas, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.Understand that tanned skin is damaged skin.
  • Always apply sunscreen (minimum of 30 SPF). However, it's best to keep newborns out of the sun, as sunscreens should only be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Know your skin and examine it regularly. Recognizing changes in the skin is the best way to detect melanoma early. Add monthly skin checks to your routine.
  • Schedule a yearly skin exam by dermatologist if you have blond hair, fair skin, easily freckling skin and work outdoors most of the time.

Signs and symptoms of skin cancer include (know your ABCDE’s!):

  • A – Asymmetry – if you draw a line through a mole or lesion, the halves are not equal
  • B – Border – irregular border – a benign mole has smooth, even borders. A malignant one has edges that may be scalloped or notched, uneven.
  • C – Color – most benign moles are one color, often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colors present is a warning sign.
  • D – Diameter – Benign moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. Melanomas are usually larger than a pencil eraser, but may be smaller when first detected.
  • E – Evolving – Common or benign moles look the same over time. Be aware when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way; size, shape, color, elevation, or any other new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting.

(Note: Not all melanoma falls within the ABCDE model, so see a dermatologist regularly.)

Finally, Dr. Riaz says simply staying in the shade is one of the best ways to limit your UV exposure.

“Just remember: Slip! Slop! Slap!®… and Wrap. If you are going to be in the sun, this catchphrase can help you remember some of the key steps you can take to protect yourself from UV rays.”

  • Slip on a shirt.
  • Slop on sunscreen.
  • Slap on a hat.
  • Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them.

To book an appointment with Dr. Riaz, call (806) 725-1801 for more information.

This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please seek medical advice from your physician for any related medical condition. If you are in need of a primary care doctor, click here to find one in the Covenant Health network.

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