Melanoma Awareness Month: Tips for Staying Sun-Safe in May and Beyond

The month of May means spring is in full bloom. But with many months of outdoor activities still ahead, it’s also an important time of year to keep skin cancer prevention top of mind. Each May, Panama Jack teams up with the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) to raise awareness about the dangers of skin cancer—particularly the most serious and invasive form known as melanoma. Here’s a deeper look into melanoma and its common causes, along with our top sun safety tips for reducing your risk.

Melanoma Survivor Story

When it comes to cancer, people often think: well, it won’t happen to me. As a result, they may not fully understand their risks, nor the best ways to mitigate them. But as survivor Darren Reilly would tell you, skin cancer can affect just about anyone. 

When Reilly’s own wife was diagnosed with melanoma a few years ago, he opted to start getting annual skin checks as well. Several skin biopsies later, after removing and testing numerous “suspicious” freckles, Reilly is now a survivor of multiple instances of melanoma. 

While Reilly is now well following his various treatments, today he is more vigilant than ever against the possibility of recurring instances of melanoma and other skin cancers. As part of this, he is committed to regular skin checks with a qualified dermatologist (up to 4 times per year) to ensure he’s keeping a close eye on his skin. 

“The moral of the story,” says Reilly, is to “speak up and advocate for yourself … It’s an easy thing to remove a suspicious spot and have it tested. The removal process doesn’t hurt, the recovery is simple, and the definitive answer is always better [than assuming].” And prevention, along with preemptive action, really can save lives. “Just like scheduled oil changes,” adds Reilly, “we should get skin checks before our warning light comes on.”

Melanoma 101

Even with stories like Reilly’s emerging every day, you may be surprised to learn just how prevalent skin cancer really is. In fact, it is generally considered to be the most common form of cancer (when factoring both melanoma and non-melanoma varieties, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and more). 

Melanoma, in particular, is the deadliest form of skin cancer, affecting more than 207,000 people in the United States alone each year, as of last year. This type of skin cancer occurs within the skin cells that are responsible for producing melanin (called melanocytes). And the vast majority of cases of cutaneous melanoma are linked to harmful UV rays—whether from the sun, or even from indoor tanning beds. 

Here are a few other key points from the MRF to keep in mind when it comes to skin cancer and managing your risk of melanoma:

  • Melanoma does not discriminate by age, race or gender.
  • The lifetime risk of contracting melanoma is about 1 in 40 for Cacasions, 1 in 200 for Hispanics, and 1 in 1,000 for African Americans.
  • Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25-30, and the second leading cause of cancer death in women ages 30-35.
  • Nearly 90% of melanomas are believed to be caused by exposure to sunlight and harmful UV light. 
  • It takes only one blistering sunburn (especially at a young age) to more than double a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life. 
  • Today, there are over 1.3 million individuals living with melanoma in the U.S. alone, and sadly, as of 2021, melanoma is expected to take the lives of more than 7,180 people in America—each year

Managing Your Risk of Melanoma

As we’ve shared on our blog previously, there are many ways of detecting and preventing melanoma. In terms of identifying skin cancers that may already be forming on your skin, regular skin checks with your dermatologist are critical. Most experts agree that individuals should do such checks at least once per year. But for those with a family history of skin cancer, or who have recovered from instances of skin cancer themselves, the recommendation is often to engage in skin screenings more frequently throughout the year.

Skin checks aside, managing your risk of melanoma starts with prevention. And daily sunscreen use (along with frequent reapplication) is top of the skin protection list. Opt for a Broad Spectrum sunscreen—meaning that it can shield against both UVA and UVB rays—and aim for an SPF of at least 30 whenever possible, reapplying generously and often. 

Beyond sunscreen, here are a few of our other top tips for sun protection to prevent melanoma:

  • Understand your risks. Stay educated with resources and information from the MRF and other respected skin cancer experts. Get regular skin checks with your dermatologist. And if you have a family history or a personal history with cancer, speak up and stay extra vigilant with your skin screenings.
  • Avoid overexposure. Whether you’re staying in the sun for long enough to burn, not wearing or reapplying sun protection enough, or you’re still using indoor tanning beds—stop. These behaviors can exponentially increase your risk of skin cancer, and every exposure to harmful UV rays counts.
  • Dress for occasion. From sunglasses to UV-protective clothing, what you wear can help to reinforce the sun protection factor beyond wearing sunscreen only on exposed skin. 

Get Involved in Melanoma Awareness Month

Melanoma Awareness Month is a national education and prevention campaign celebrated each May. One key element of the campaign is the award-winning cutaneous melanoma early detection initiative known as #GetNaked, which aims to honor and raise awareness and critical funding to support melanoma patients and their families. 

Throughout the month of May, the MRF spreads awareness by sharing stories from patients, caregivers and experts in the field, as well as resources, events and more. Join the official Melanoma Awareness Month Kickoff Event on Tuesday, May 3rd—then stay tuned to the MRF’s weekly Ask the Expert series each subsequent Tuesday in May. And don’t miss the weekly “derm-fluencer” Instagram Live sessions every Thursday, with topics ranging from sun safety and prevention to health trends and more. Last but certainly not least, this May and all year round, you can always make a positive difference in the fight against skin cancer by donating directly to the Melanoma Research Foundation.