7 things you should know about breast cancer screening

Give yourself the gift of good health –

Understand your skin cancer risk factors during the winter

With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, those in wintery climates may be inclined to forget their summer sun safety routine thinking it’s no longer necessary. The truth is that skin damage leading to skin cancer can happen at any time, and the winter months are no exception. It is important to practice sun protection at all times of the year and understand your skin cancer risk factors.

Can I really get sun damage during the winter where it snows?

Absolutely. The number one risk of developing skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun’s unfiltered rays. UV light is a form of radiation, or energy, that is invisible to the human eye. Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that may lead to sunburn are strongest in the summer, but can still cause significant damage in the winter. Snow reflects up to 80 percent of these rays, which means they impact you twice, increasing your risk of sunburn, skin cancer and premature aging. Additionally, ultraviolet A (UVA) rays (rays that penetrate the skin further, cause premature aging and contribute to skin cancer) can permeate through clouds, fog and most glass.

How should I protect my skin in the winter?

If you live in a snowy region, you are already halfway there. It’s easy to cover most of your body with a coat, hat, boots and gloves to stay warm. But don’t forget to still wear sunscreen on your face, ears, neck, and any other exposed skin, including covering your lips with a lip balm that contains an SPF greater than 30. Reapply sunscreen often if you are outside for extended periods of time for activities such as shopping, shoveling, skiing, caroling, or if you are sweating heavily.

Who is at higher risk of developing skin cancer during the winter?

Those who live or visit at higher altitudes and are surrounded by snow are at an increased risk, including avid skiers and snowboarders. Additionally, at these high altitudes, the atmosphere is thinner and unable to block the UV rays as well as in lower altitudes. Consider this - one day enjoying these winter activities is like a day enjoyed on the beach. Always apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you hit the slopes or go outside in wintery areas.

What signs and symptoms should I look out for?

If you haven’t had an appointment already this year, make sure to check in with your dermatologist or primary health care provider. In between your usual examinations:

  • Check your skin on a regular basis. A good way to know what to look for is to practice the ABCDE’s of melanoma inspection. Look for any new moles, dark spots or changes to the shape, borders, symmetry, size or color/pigment of moles. Also, look for skin that appears to be pearly, itchy, scabby or has wounds that won’t heal or are bleeding for long periods of time. If you are uncertain about a mole or other skin lesion that could be changing, take a cell phone picture with a ruler next to the area. In six to eight weeks, if a second picture shows the lesion changed, see your health care provider immediately.
  • Don’t forget to check everywhere – skin cancer can develop anywhere on the skin, including areas not generally exposed to sunlight, including under the toenails and in the genital area.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or if anything feels or looks different.

The best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones is the gift of health. Continue to practice sun safety, even during blizzards, to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

7 things you should know about breast cancer screening