The Medical Minute: An important time to think about protecting skin

June 16, 2009

By Betsy Aumiller

The onset of summer and increased outdoor recreation is a good time to think about how we should protect our skin from the sun. One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. With summer here, it is crucial to be aware of your risk factors, the symptoms of skin cancer and appropriate ways to protect your skin from overexposure to the sun.

Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

  • Age
  • Skin color
  • Light hair and eye color
  • Skin burns, freckles, or gets red easily
  • Excessive sun exposure/Outdoor work
  • Many sunburns in early life
  • Large number of moles
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer

Symptoms of Skin Cancer

  • A change in an existing mole
  • A sore that does not heal
  • A raised new mole or growth on the skin
  • Moles with ragged or uneven edges

An ordinary mole is evenly colored and brown, tan, or flesh-colored on the skin. Moles can change, so be alert for the ABCDs of melanoma:

A = Asymmetry: one half unlike the other half
B = Border: irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border
C = Color: varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes red, white, or blue
D = Diameter: moles that grow larger than a pencil eraser (6mm in diameter)

Sun Safety Recommendations

  • Stay Away – Avoid the mid-day sun (10 a.m. - 4 p.m.)
  • Block – Use SPF 15 or higher sun block (SPF=Sun Protection Factor)
  • Cover Up – Wear full coverage clothing
  • Do a monthly skin self-exam
  • Talk to a doctor or nurse about your risk for skin cancer
  • Consider additional screening if recommended for you
  • Know the symptoms
  • Contact your doctor right away

Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center has a long history of providing outreach education and services to the community related to skin cancer, including the yearly free skin cancer screenings offered each May by the Department of Dermatology. In an effort to extend the reach of these services, Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, in conjunction with Dermatology, recently conducted an additional free skin cancer screening at the University Physicians Group Front Street Family Practice Clinic. Additionally, if your group is looking for a speaker to address skin cancer awareness and prevention, please call the PA Cancer Education Network at (717) 531-0003 ext.287469 to schedule a free session.

Locally, join Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute on Saturday, June 27, for an introduction to the region’s only comprehensive cancer center. The community open house, open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., begins with a ribbon-cutting and offers a cancer-related wellness fair, cancer educational programs, and an art exhibit created solely by cancer survivors, with special guest appearances by members of the Hershey Bears. For details visit

Betsy Aumiller, D.Ed is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine

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Last Updated June 18, 2009