NWI doctors give tips for preventing skin cancer - May 19, 2017

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • May 19, 2017

By Giles Bruce

The warm weather months are upon us, and many of us soon will be spending a lot more time outside.

With that comes the risk of sun exposure. One in five people in the United States will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime, often caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. An average of one American dies of melanoma, the most aggressive and dangerous form of the disease, every hour.

“Everyone is at risk for skin cancer,” said Dr. Tarun Kukreja, a Munster dermatologist with the Franciscan Physician Network. “The good news is you can prevent and detect it.”

To do that, Kukreja said:

— Seek shade when appropriate, remembering the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m and 2 p.m.

— Wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeve shirt, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses

— Generously apply at least an ounce, enough to fill a shot glass, of a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 to all exposed skin 15 minutes before going outside, and reapply after 2 hours.

You should also stay out of the tanning bed, said Dr. Ashvin Garlapati, a dermatologist with Methodist Hospitals in Crown Point. He said he has seen about a half-dozen younger patients already this year, with invasive melanoma, from using tanning beds.

“It’s becoming like an epidemic,” he said. “Your skin is getting direct ultraviolet rays right into your body, penetrating right into your skin. Those UV rays are carcinogenic. They transform skin cells into melanoma and other types of skin cancers.”

Garlapati said people can self-check their moles by looking out for the “ABCDEs” of melanoma: asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, diameter (bigger than the head of a pencil) and evolution.

Dr. Lohith Bose, of Bose Plastic Surgery at Porter Regional Hospital in Valparaiso, noted that people with reduced immune systems or a strong family history of skin cancer are at risk for developing the disease. Your doctor can check your skin at your annual exam.

He said basal and squamous cell carcinoma are typically found on parts of the body exposed to the sun, and may look like a scar, red or shiny bumps with dark areas around them, small red patches that could be scaly or itchy, open sores, raised bumps or lumps, or wart-like growths. Meanwhile, melanoma typically appears as abnormal spots on the skin.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has ruled that not enough evidence exists to recommend for or against routine screening in asymptotic patients, noted Dr. Bernadette Obmaces, a family medicine physician in Valparaiso with Community Health Care System. However, she said selective screening may be effective for people with risk factors like sun sensitivity, white skin, fair hair, light eyes, tendency to freckle, or large numbers of or abnormal birthmarks.