Developing Sun-Safe and Skin-Safe Habits

by Bridgitte McMullen, RPN/LPN | Nurse Care Specialist, Humanacare
and Ron Thompson | ARTA Member

Ron’s Experience

Over the last few years, I’ve had some close calls with skin cancer. The first happened some time ago, when I noticed several growths on my face and earlobe. My general practitioner removed the facial growths but didn’t want to touch the growth on my ear. He said I needed to book an appointment with a dermatologist immediately.

The dermatologist took a biopsy and, sure enough, the growth was cancerous. He told me they would have to be removed by surgery. They were taken off, and I checked back in with him after six months and again after a year, and he found no further growths. I was relieved to hear that I would be fine.

Then, approximately five years later, I started noticing red blemishes on my face, and I was sent to the dermatologist again. This time, he found evidence of two precancerous conditions. With the right medications, over two or three years, those blemishes are pretty well gone. I’m not under the illusion that I’m out of the woods yet. I know they could return at any time.

Finally, I recently developed a growth on my left hand about the size of a dime. My new general practitioner initially thought it was just a wart. But even with the wart treatment she gave me, it was getting larger, not smaller, and became enflamed.

I knew the routine at this point: back to the dermatologist. Again, after a biopsy, it turned out to be cancerous. Again though, after several tests and scrapings, I received good news. The cancer was once again eliminated.

After three brushes with cancer, I know it’s something that isn’t just going to go away. The chances of another occurrence are pretty high, so it’s something I have to keep watching out for. If I see something suspicious, I won’t leave it. I have learned, the longer I leave it, the worse it could potentially get.

Bridgitte McMullen, HumanaCare Registered Practical Nurse Explains

Ron’s experience is not uncommon. When time in the sun is compounded over many years, skin can start to show signs of sun-damage, including cancer. But, with proper vigilance, you can often catch skin cancer before it becomes life-threatening.

Avoiding skin cancer begins with prevention, no matter your age. Even on days when you don’t think it’s that hot or sunny, wear a wide-brimmed hat, cover your arms and legs, and get sunglasses that offer protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. Plan your outdoor activities either before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to avoid the most intense sunlight. Seek shade where you can, and wear sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. It’s never too late to benefit from basic sun-safe habits.

Next, like Ron, you’ll want to remain mindful of signs of skin cancer. There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma occurs mostly in the areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as your head and neck. It appears as a change in the skin, such as a growth or sore that won’t heal. It can look like this:

  • a shiny, translucent, skin-coloured bump that may bleed and scab over but never completely heals
  • a brown, black, or blue lesion, or a lesion with dark spots, with a slightly raised, translucent border
  • a flat, scaly, patch with a raised edge that can grow quite large over time
  • a white, waxy, scar-like lesion without a clearly defined border.

Squamous cell carcinoma can develop in many areas of the body, not just where skin is exposed to the sun. It responds very well to treatment; however, it can spread aggressively if not detected early. Some signs and symptoms to watch for include:

  • firm red nodules on the skin
  • flat sores with a scaly crust
  • new sores or raised areas on an old scar or ulcer
  • rough scaly patches on your lip that may evolve to an open sore
  • red sores around the mouth
  • any wart-like sores on, in, or around the genitals and anus.

Melanoma is the least common type, but it often has the bleakest outcome, as it is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body. The first symptoms often appear as follows:

  • a change to an existing mole
  • a new pigmentation or unusual growth anywhere on the body.

Check your skin for these symptoms regularly, and don’t be embarrassed to ask a friend or partner to help. If you notice any changes or new areas, contact your health-care provider without delay. If caught early, skin cancer is highly treatable. So, check often; it’s never too late to start new habits.

ARTACares is included at no additional cost with all ARTA Extended Health Care Benefit Plans and is provided by HumanaCare, an Alberta-based health and wellness provider with more than thirty-five years of Canadian health-care experience. For more information, visit