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Summer Sun Safety Month with Dr. Michelle Ashworth

August 09, 2019

Texas ranks fifth in the nation for newly diagnosed cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Texas ranks fifth in the nation for newly diagnosed cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

In recognition of Summer Sun Safety Month, Michelle Ashworth, M.D., of Texas Oncology–Round Rock debunks myths about skin cancer and shares ways Texans can stay safe this summer. 

What are some of the most common myths about sun safety and skin cancer that you hear as an oncologist? 

I often hear people suggesting that sunscreen ‘isn’t worth it’ because of the ongoing re-evaluation of SPF ratings. Even with limitations in the current system, from experience, the usefulness of sunscreen is known to those of us very susceptible to sunburns.

Another one I often hear is people buying into the myth that indoor tanning does not cause skin damage. Tanning beds have been linked in multiple population studies to rising incidences of UV-related skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma in younger women. This used to be a disease mostly found in elderly males with a lifetime of outdoor exposure, but now we’re seeing it in women in their 30s.

Texas ranks fifth in the nation for newly diagnosed cases of melanoma. What tips can you offer to help people stay safe in the sun this summer?  

I fully understand that while it’s hot here, we do love the sun! We’re also at a latitude where we enjoy plenty of hours of sunshine per year. To stay safe, though, I suggest the following:

  1. Avoid sun during the hottest hours of midafternoon by practicing siesta!
  2. Follow the example of the billions of people who live in truly hot climates and cover up with loose-fitting, light-colored, breathable clothing like light cotton or linen; it may seem counterintuitive to cover up, but you’ll end up cooler and less sunburned.
  3. When you do go out in the sun, carry sunscreen that’s affordable and that you like, and use it regularly. Use a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on areas of skin exposed to the sun. For kids, setting a good example and starting early are the most important practices to reduce lifelong risk of skin cancer, since many cases are linked to early sun exposure.  

How have you seen the treatment of skin cancers evolve throughout your career, and what’s on the horizon?  

Treatment options for dermatologists and surgeons continue to evolve with new topical treatments, devices for detecting and ablating cancers, and surgical techniques. As a medical oncologist, I consistently see new options for therapy for advanced or metastatic skin cancers, including squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma, which have all been approved for use within the past five to eight years. ­ 

Is there anything you would like patients to know during Summer Sun Safety Month? 

While it is easy to prevent, skin cancer can be disfiguring or fatal, and can occur even in your 30s and 40s. So, have a great time this summer, but be sure to take care of yourself and skip the sunburns.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.