Bodywork

Q:

How Often Should I Get Checked for Skin Cancer?

I live in Minnesota, so for half of the year I either exercise indoors or am pretty covered up. How often should I be screened for skin cancer?

outside fitness coach skin cancer skin care

    Photo: Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

A:We posed your question to Dr. Phil Ecker, a Minneapolis dermatologist and marathoner.

It doesn’t matter where you live, he says. If you are concerned about something, get it checked out. And if you fall into one of these two categories, you should get screened for skin cancer at least once a year:

1. You have first-degree relatives who’ve had melanoma.

2. You’ve had a history of precancers like actinic keratosis, or skin cancers yourself.

While the most common places for skin cancer to develop are on the nose, temples, and ears—areas that may still be exposed to the sun even during the winter—they’re not the only spots to check for trouble. “Female athletes tend to get more skin cancer on their legs than men do, and men tend to get more skin cancer on their trunks. We see a lot more melanoma on women’s legs than you’d expect,” Ecker says.

Ecker recommends wearing a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB blocking sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, no matter how dreary it is outside. “Eighty percent of the sun’s rays come through the clouds, even on cold winter days when the sun’s not out. If you’re in an office building or in a car driving around, all of the UVA rays come right through the glass, so you’re still getting hit pretty hard,” Ecker says. Not only do UVA rays play a part in aging and wrinkling the skin, but they may also initiate the development of skin cancers, according to skincancer.org.

If you’re a runner, Ecker recommends using a greasier sunscreen that will stick to your skin and not run into your eyes while you’re exercising—even on a treadmill by a window. He likes Vanicream Sport SPF 35.

THE BOTTOM LINE: No matter where you live, if you have any concerns, see your dermatologist. And if you have any personal or family history of skin cancer, get screened at least once a year. Damaging UVA rays can still sneak their way into your skin even if you’re not training outside in the sun every day.  

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