The skin is the largest organ of the body. It serves a lot of purposes, acting as a protective barrier and an active organ of the immune system, helping to regulate body temperature, and performing sensory functions. It’s also subjected to a lot of abuse.
This past weekend I was at a family gathering. A couple of teenage girls were there, they had both spent the day in the sun with no protection, and they both had angry-looking sunburns. When I was a teenager, I did the same thing. It has now been about 35 years since I deliberately got a tan, and I’m still paranoid enough about my past behavior that I go to the dermatologist every year to get checked for skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We don’t tend to think about that as teenagers, but getting skin cancer in middle age doesn’t occur because of that beach trip you took last month; it’s usually from skin damage that occurred cumulatively and long ago. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that one person dies from malignant melanoma every hour.
There are a lot of simple things you can do to prevent skin cancer. Sunburn can occur in as little as 15 minutes, including when you’re in the shade. Wearing sunscreen is a necessity, and so is reapplying it often, especially if you’re going in the water. Wear clothing or at a minimum a cover-up when you’re not in the water. Sunglasses protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. A hat with a brim wide enough to shade your face, ears, and neck is a good preventative measure.
Those of us who practice massage therapy should be well-informed about suspicious moles or spots on the skin. We may be the only person who sees the back of someone’s body–an area they can’t see themselves. Annie Powell is a massage therapist and friend of mine (and a long-time supporter of Soothing Touch) who founded the World Skin Project to educate people after her own experience with malignant melanoma. After having her first one removed at the age of 20, six years later, Annie was completing her externship at Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy. Her instructor, Scott Raymond, detected a suspicious mole on her back that she otherwise would not have seen. Scott had been educated about skin cancer and made her aware of the skin abnormality. Annie’s dermatologist diagnosed her with Stage III malignant melanoma and took swift action. Over the years, she has had 15 malignant melanomas removed.
Skin cancer has a high cure rate when diagnosed early. Taking measures such as those mentioned above, getting annual checkups from the dermatologist, and making yourself aware of what skin cancer looks like is the best plan of prevention.