Winter means shorter days, but in Orange County, even those short days
So when you step outside this weekend to enjoy the warm February forecast,
don't forget to grab your sunscreen to protect yourself against damaging
ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., affecting 1
in 5 Americans and killing more than 9,000 people per year. One reason
for skin cancer's large reach is that we tend to let our guards down
during the winter, forgetting hats and sunscreen and exposing our heads,
faces and necks to UV radiation in ways we might not during warmer summer months.
The truth is UV radiation is damaging all year round — particularly
in Orange County, which has one of the highest incidents of melanoma in
Even dreary days offer no protection against skin cancer. In fact, the
American Academy of Dermatologists said that up to 80% of the sun's
UV rays are able to pass through clouds. And UV rays can even reflect
off clouds' edges, intensifying the level of UV radiation reaching you.
While bodies might be bundled up and protected from these rays, faces,
scalps and necks tend to be left uncovered and vulnerable all year round.
The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, is particularly brutal when
it develops on the scalp and neck. In fact, patients with melanomas in
those areas are almost twice as likely to die as patients with melanomas
on other areas.
That is why I always tell my patients to remember their hats and sunscreen
along with their jackets during the winter. For sunscreen, look for one
that offers both UVA and UVB protection with a sun protection factor (SPF)
of 15 or higher. As for hats, wide brims that offer more coverage, dark
colors that absorb more UV radiation and dense, closed-weave fabrics offer
the best protection.
If you must go hatless, consider applying sunscreen to any exposed skin
or including where the hair is thinning.
While prevention is the best weapon in the fight against skin cancer, early
detection is the next line of defense. So winter is also a good time to
visit the dermatologist for mole mapping and skin health screening.
Patients who have a personal or family history of melanoma, often require
a high-tech approach to evaluating changes to the skin. The Hoag Melanoma/Advanced
Skin Cancer Program, for instance, offers evaluation by a Fotofinder unit,
an advanced imaging system, which scans the entire skin surface for areas
that could later develop into melanoma.
If cancer is detected, early treatment is highly recommended, as skin cancer
can spread quickly. Thankfully patients have more options today than ever
before. Through a special alliance with USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer,
Hoag's program focuses on advanced surgery, therapeutics and clinical
trials to help skin cancer patients beat the odds. But while advances
are constantly being made in treatment, prevention is still the goal.
So put on your hat, slap on the sunscreen, and enjoy Orange County's
enviable winter weather safely.
BINH NGO, M.D. is lead dermatologist for Hoag's High Risk Melanoma Clinic and
a high-risk dermatologist from the Keck USC School of Medicine.