We love the sunny days of spring and summer in Chicago—riding our bikes along the lake, going to street festivals and attending baseball games. But we need to be smart when we’re outside; time in the sun is a double-edged sword. While we require vitamin D from the sun to help our bodies regulate calcium and phosphate, we also run the risk of skin cancer.
Dermatologist Natalia Anikin, M.D., says the first step in preventing skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun, especially during peak hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “Use UVA and UVB sun screen, hats, umbrellas and special clothing,” she says. Some companies, such as Solartex and Coolibar now produce UV clothing, which protects from harmful rays.
Without protection, you risk developing any of the three basic types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma.
Basal cell lies in the outer layer of skin and is usually easy to treat upon detection. Physicians may use radiation, surgery or a cream.
“People don’t typically die from basal cell, as long as they’re paying attention. At the same time, it can be prevented,” Dr. Anikin says.
Check the face, ears and scalp regularly for small lesions. They will likely develop without any symptoms—no pain, itching or burning. “They can continue for years, and then go deeper, get more complicated,” Dr. Anikin says.
Squamous cell is more challenging to treat. Like basal cell, it may start as a small lesion, but with some crusting.
“Sometimes people think it’s from their dentures or from something scratching them, but it won’t go away by itself,” Dr. Anikin says.
Squamous cell occurs in sun-exposed areas, such as the face, ears, upper chest and lower legs. It may cause discomfort during sleep. Caught early enough, it can be easily treated; if left alone, though, it can metastasize.
The most aggressive form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, affects 60,000 people each year in the United States. While one in 75 fair-skinned people run a lifetime risk of developing it, this form of skin cancer can affect people with any skin tone. In darker skin-toned people, it tends to occur on the palms, soles of the feet or under the nails.
Malignant melanoma appears as a dark pink, brown or gray pigmentation with an irregular border. This type of cancer can alter the look of the moles on your body, so check them regularly. Usually a mole is round or oval. If it turns to a star, square or triangle, consult a dermatologist immediately.
Dr. Anikin recommends self-checks at home, following the ABCD rules:
- A for asymmetry—are the two halves of the irregular mark different?
- B for border irregularity—is the mark’s border scalloped?
- C for color variegation—does the mark contain varying hues or colors?
- D for diameter—is the diameter of the mark greater than six millimeters?
When venturing outdoors, Dr. Anikin recommends SPF 30+ sunscreen, though for cosmetic use on the face, she says SPF 15 can work for up to one hour.
“If you’re swimming, you definitely need sunscreen,” she adds. “For children, we usually use 50+ because they’re in sun all day.”
Also consider the types of medications you are taking. Some increase sun sensitivity. Consult a pharmacist or doctor to learn about your specific medications.
And if you have any of the symptoms discussed here, make an appointment with a dermatologist immediately. Don’t wait for your yearly exam; it may be too late.
For more information, call (773) 878-8700 and ask to speak to Dr. Anikin.