By Linda Greer, M.D.
If you’ve had either breast cancer or melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer), experts say you’re at risk for developing the other.
These findings are published in journals such as Annals of Oncology, Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, and the International Journal of Cancer. Findings are so strong, in fact, that researchers explicitly advised doctors to monitor breast cancer patients for signs of melanoma, and vice versa.
If you have a history of either skin or breast cancer, tell your doctors and have regular screening mammograms or breast MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). Screening refers to tests and exams used to find a disease, such as cancer, in individuals who do not have any symptoms. The goal of screening exams for early breast cancer detection is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. The John C. Lincoln Breast Health and Research Center also recommends women age 40 and older have an annual screening mammogram. A baseline screening mammogram is recommended for women between the ages 35-39 years.
As summer bears down, note these tips from the American Cancer Society to prevent skin cancer, including its most deadly form, melanoma: Slip, slop, slap and wrap.
• Slip on a shirt. Wear long sleeves and long pants with a tight weave; it protects better than a loose one. A wide-brimmed hat also helps avoid overexposure to the sun.
• Slop on sunscreen with an SPF of 30. Slop more on after two hours, sooner if you’re sweating or swimming. Check the expiration date.
• Slap on a hat.
• Wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around them. The ideal sunglasses should block 99-100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
More tips include avoiding the sun from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. when ultraviolet rays are strongest. Also avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. They emit UVA and UVB rays that can cause long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer. Tanning bed use has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if you started using them before age 30.
What about vitamin D? Get it from your diet or vitamin supplements. They’re typically more reliable ways to get the amount you need rather than sun exposure, which increases skin cancer risk.