By Contributing Writer - July 25, 2020
Once a year, Martina Yates treats herself to a fresh cut and color to celebrate her birthday. Like most women, Yates looks forward to going to the hair salon.
But this visit was different. “Ashley, my hairstylist, asked me when this new little mole appeared on my head,” said Yates.
The stylist hadn’t noticed the mole during Yates’s previous appointments. She took some photos and encouraged her to have the mole checked out.
Yates recalled saying, “I work seven days a week and I really don’t have time. It’s probably nothing.”
But Ashley didn’t give in so easily. She told Yates about another client who came back to see her with bandages wrapped on his head and thanked her for saving his life.
“Ashley continued to hound me, so I finally made an appointment,” said Yates.
A month later in September 2019, Yates had the mole biopsied. Doctors initially suspected it could be melanoma based on the size, shape and color of the mole, but fortunately it was basal cell carcinoma, which is easier to treat. Yates underwent surgery to remove the cancer and was then referred to Moffitt Cancer Center for plastic surgery.
“I’m guilty of not wearing sunscreen,” said Yates. “I used to bake in the sun with baby oil. Thinking back on that and how young and naïve I was about the effects of the sun, not just cancer but what it can do to your skin.”
Yates also admits she never wore hats when in the sun. “I have such long hair, why would I be concerned with having to cover my head?”
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can lead to skin cancer, as well as painful sunburns, heat stroke, dehydration, skin wrinkles and other premature signs of aging. Because the risk of UV exposure is generally highest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., it is especially important to be careful when outdoors during those times.
To help you protect yourself and your family, Moffitt’s skin cancer experts offer the following tips:
Sunscreen – Always apply a waterproof, broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Pay attention to easily missed areas of your body, such as your ears, the tops of your feet and the part in your hair. Reapply every two hours, as well as after you swim or sweat.
Clothing – The best way to protect your skin from sun damage is to cover it with clothing, including a loose fitting, long sleeved shirt and long pants made of a tightly woven fabric.
Hat – Protect your head, ears, face and neck with the shade of a wide brimmed hat constructed of a tightly woven fabric like canvas. If you wear a baseball cap, be doubly sure to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
Sunglasses – Protect your eyes by wearing wraparound sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
Shade – Seek shade underneath a shelter, umbrella or tree, especially during the midday hours. Even if you are in a shaded area, remember to protect yourself with sunscreen, clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
For Yates, these lessons were learned the hard way.
“I’ll have to do full body scans every six months, but now I pay close attention to any new birthmarks or moles that I see,” said Yates. “Now, I spray myself with sunscreen every day before I walk out the door.”