Where you live makes a difference. Exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, rays from the sun is a risk factor for skin cancer. The closer you live to the equator, the stronger the UV rays. So, for example, someone living in Florida may be at higher risk for skin cancer than someone living in Maine, simply due to location. In addition, UV rays are stronger at higher elevations. That means people who live at sea level may have a lower skin cancer risk than those who live in the mountains.
Your amount of sun exposure contributes to your risk, as well. There is evidence that people who had multiple blistering sunburns as children are at high risk for developing melanoma. In addition, there is increasing evidence that sun exposure as an adult is important, as well. Therefore everyone should take steps to protect themselves from the sun. Wear sunscreen on a regular basis. Avoid the midday sun. Wear protective clothing and a hat with a wide brim.
Finally, genetics are important, too. People who have a family history of skin cancer are more likely to develop skin cancer than those who do not. During a baseline assessment, the dermatologist will ask questions about your family history to help determine your risk. With this in mind, you may want to learn more about the history of skin cancer in your family before your appointment.
The assessment helps determine how often you need to see a dermatologist. Some people at high risk for skin cancer need to be seen every three to six months. Others who are at low risk may only need to check in every other year. The frequency all depends on your individual situation. After your assessment, talk to your dermatologist about the best schedule for you, based on your skin cancer risk factors. -- Anokhi Jambusaria-Pahlajani, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla.
(Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic is an educational resource and doesn’t replace regular medical care. E-mail a question to email@example.com. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org.)