Melanoma and How to
Reduce the Risk While Riding
With the breakdown of the ozone, the threat of melanoma becomes more real everyday. Here are some ways to help keep us all healthy and on those bikes. A little effort goes a long way.
Detailed Guide: Skin Cancer - Melanoma
Can Melanoma Be Prevented?
Not all melanomas can be prevented, but there are ways to reduce your risk of getting melanoma.
Limit ultraviolet (UV) exposure
The most important way to lower your risk of melanoma is to protect yourself from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Practice sun safety when you are outdoors. "Slip! Slop! Slap! … and Wrap" is a catch phrase that reminds people of the 4 key methods they can use to protect themselves from UV radiation. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them from ultraviolet light.
Protect your skin with clothing
Clothes provide different levels of protection, depending on many factors. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or long skirts are the most protective. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. Dry fabric is generally more protective than wet fabric.
Be aware that covering up doesn't block out all UV rays. A typical light T-shirt worn in the summer usually provides less protection than a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
A few companies in the United States now make clothing that is lightweight, comfortable, and protects against UV exposure even when wet. Some sun-protective clothes have a label listing the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) value -- the level of protection the garment provides from the sun's UV rays (on a scale from 15 to 50+). The higher the UPF, the higher the protection from UV rays.
Newer products are also available to increase the UPF value of clothes you already own. Used like laundry detergents, they add a layer of UV protection to your clothes without changing the color or texture.
Wear a hat
A hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim all around is ideal because it protects areas often exposed to the sun, such as the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp. A shade cap (which looks like a baseball cap with about 7 inches of fabric draping down the sides and back) is also good. These are often sold in sports and outdoor supply stores.
A baseball cap can protect the front and top of the head but not the back of the neck or the ears, where skin cancers commonly develop. Straw hats are not recommended unless they are tightly woven.
The American Cancer Society recommends using sunscreen as part of a sun protection program.
Use sunscreens and lip balms with an SPF factor of 15 or more on areas of skin exposed to the sun, especially when the sunlight is strong (for example, in hot or high-altitude locations or between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm). Use sunscreen even on hazy days or days with light or broken cloud cover because the UV light still comes through.
Always follow directions when applying sunscreen. For it to work best, sunscreen should be applied about 20 to 30 minutes before you go outside. A 1-ounce application (a palmful of sunscreen) is recommended to cover the arms, legs, neck and face of the average adult. Protection is greatest when sunscreen is used thickly on all sun-exposed skin. To ensure continued protection, many sunscreens should be reapplied at least every 2 hours. Many sunscreens wash off when you sweat or swim and must be reapplied for maximum effectiveness. And don't forget your lips; lip balm with sunscreen is also available.
Some people use sunscreens in order to stay out in the sun longer without getting sunburned. Sunscreen should not be used to gain extra time in the sun, as you will still end up with damage to your skin.
It is important to remember that although sunscreens may help reduce your exposure to UV light, they will not prevent melanoma if you get too much exposure, particularly if you have other risk factors.
If you want a tan, try using a "sunless" tanning lotion. These can provide the look, without the danger. Sunless tanning lotions contain a substance called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA works by interacting with proteins on the surface of the skin to produce color. You do not have to go out in the sun for these to work. The color tends to wear off after a few days.
Wrap-around sunglasses with at least 99% UV absorption provide the best protection for the eyes and the skin area around the eyes. Look for sunglasses labeled as blocking UVA and UVB light. Labels that say "UV absorption up to 400 nm" or "Meets ANSI UV Requirements" mean the glasses block at least 99% of UV rays. If there is no label, don't assume the sunglasses provide any protection.
Another way to limit exposure to UV light is to avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long. This is particularly important in the middle of the day between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when UV light is strongest. If you are unsure about the sun's intensity, take the shadow test: If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun's rays are the strongest. Plan activities out of the sun during these times. If you must be outdoors, protect your skin. Keep in mind that sunlight (and UV rays) can come through clouds, can reflect off water, sand, concrete, and snow, and can reach below the water's surface.
The UV index: The amount of UV light reaching the ground in any given place depends on a number of factors, including the time of day, time of year, elevation, and cloud cover. To help people better understand the intensity of UV light in their area on a given day, the National Weather Service and the US Environmental Protection Agency have developed the UV Index. It gives people an idea of how strong the UV light is in their area, on a scale from 1 to 11+. A higher number means a higher chance of sunburn, skin damage and ultimately skin cancers of all kinds. Your local UV Index should be available daily in your local newspaper, on TV weather reports, and online (www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html).
Protect children from the sun
Children require special attention, since they tend to spend more time outdoors and can burn more easily. Parents and other caregivers should protect children from excess sun exposure by using the measures described above. Older children need to be cautioned about sun exposure as they become more independent. It is important, particularly in parts of the world where it is sunnier, to cover your children as fully as is reasonable. You should develop the habit of using sunscreen on exposed skin for yourself and your children whenever you go outdoors and may be exposed to large amounts of sunlight.
Avoid other sources of uv light
Using tanning beds and sun lamps is hazardous because the UV radiation they deliver can be damaging to the skin. There is growing evidence that they may increase your risk of developing melanoma. This is an area of active research.
Researchers are finding that the rate of skin cancer in young people is increasing. One factor may be the use of indoor tanning facilities. Most skin doctors highly recommend not using tanning beds and sun lamps.
Sun exposure and vitamin D
Doctors are learning that vitamin D has many health benefits. It may even help to lower the risk for some cancers. Vitamin D is made naturally by your skin when you are in the sun. How much vitamin D is made depends on many things, including how old you are, how dark your skin is, and how intensely the sun shines where you live. At this time, doctors aren't sure what the optimal level of vitamin D is, or how best to balance the possible benefits of getting vitamin D from sunlight versus the possible risks of skin cancer. This is an area of very active research. For those with darker skin or who live in areas with little daily sunlight, an approach recommended by many experts is to take vitamin D by mouth, such as in supplements or certain foods. For example, most milk has vitamin D added.
For more information on how to protect yourself and your family from UV exposure, see the separate American Cancer Society document, Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.
Identifying abnormal moles and having them removed
Certain types of moles have an increased risk of developing into a melanoma (see the section, "What are the risk factors for melanoma?"). Depending on the appearance of these moles, your doctor may want to watch them closely by regular exams or may remove them if they have certain features that suggest they may be changing into a melanoma.
Routine removal of many moles is not generally recommended as a way to prevent melanoma. Some melanomas may develop from moles, but most do not. If you have many moles, a careful, routine exam by your doctor or a dermatologist, along with monthly skin self-exams may be recommended.
If you find an unusual or changing mole, it should be checked by a doctor experienced in recognizing skin cancers. See the section, "Can melanoma be found early?" to learn how to recognize suspicious moles and melanoma.
Genetic counseling and testing
If several members of one side of your family have had melanoma, if you have had multiple melanomas, if you have had melanoma at a young age, or if you have dysplastic nevi, you may have a gene mutation that increases your risk of melanoma.
Genes such as CDKN2A (also known as p16) have been found to be mutated (changed) in some families with high rates of melanoma. Tests for these gene changes are now available, although they are not widely used by doctors at this time. People interested in learning whether they carry genes linked to melanoma may want to think about taking part in genetic research that will advance progress in this field.
Before getting any type of genetic testing, it's important to know ahead of time what the results may or may not tell you about your risk. Genetic testing is not perfect, and in some cases the tests may not be able to provide solid answers. This is why meeting with a genetic counselor before testing is crucial in deciding whether or not testing should be done.
Because it's not clear how useful the test results might be, most melanoma experts do not recommend genetic testing for people with a family history of melanoma at this time. Still, some people make the personal choice to get tested. In any event, people with a family history of melanoma should ask their doctor about getting regular skin exams, learning to do skin self-exams, and being particularly careful about sun safety.
Learn more about skin cancer prevention
Many organizations conduct skin cancer prevention activities in schools and recreational areas. Others develop brochures and public service announcements. For more information, refer to the section, "Additional resources."
Last Revised: 06/05/2008
Detailed Guide: Skin Cancer - Melanoma
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following related information may also be helpful to you. These materials may be ordered from our toll-free number, 1-800-ACS-2345.
- A Parent's Guide to Skin Protection (also available in Spanish)
- After Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families (also available in Spanish)
- Sun Basics: Skin Protection Made Simple (information for children)
In addition to the American Cancer Society, other sources of patient information and support include:
American Academy of Dermatology
Toll free number: 1-888-462-3376 (888-462-DERM)
Web site: www.aad.org
Environmental Protection Agency
Web site: www.epa.gov/ebtpages/humasunprotection.html
Melanoma Patient's Information Page
Web site: www.mpip.org
National Cancer Institute
Toll free number: 1-800-422-6237 (1-800-4-CANCER)
Web site: www.cancer.gov
Skin Cancer Foundation
Toll free number: 800-754-6490 (1-800-SKIN-490)
Web site: www.skincancer.org
*Inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement by the American Cancer Society
No matter who you are, we can help. Contact us anytime, day or night, for information and support. Call us at 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.