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Protecting your skin from melanoma this winter

The winter weather isn’t an excuse to lay off the sunscreen, that’s according to skin cancer experts who are encouraging all individuals, especially people of color to lather up this winter.

Melanoma only accounts for around 1% of skin cancers, but it causes a majority of skin cancer deaths with around 7,000 expected in 2021.

“It’s sometimes disregarded because it is on the surface of your skin so you think 'how bad can it be?' But then it can invade into your lungs and your liver and your brain and be really devestating and obviously deadly,” Dr. Ashani Weeraratna, a leading Johns Hopkins melanoma researcher said.

Weeraratna was recently appointed by President Biden to the National Cancer Advisory Board. She said as warm sunny days fade and winter hits, it’s important to keep layering on the sunscreen, especially during outings like skiing or sledding.

“The UV rays don’t take a break for the winter...You can actually get more UV exposure, because 80% of UV rays that hit the snow are reflected back,” she explained.

Weeraratna says it’s important for everyone to take precautions. Skin cancer has been seen by some as a risk for primarily White individuals, as Melanoma is more than 20 times more common in Caucasians than African Americans. However, despite being less likely to get the cancer, people of color (POC) are much more likely to die from it, due delay in detection or presentation. It’s something Weeraratna is especially passionate about, as a doctor of color herself.

“The problem is they don’t get diagnosed as often as Caucasian people do because the lesions aren’t as obvious, so I am really motivated to encourage people of color to check the soles of their feet, their finger nail beds, because that's where this type of cancer tends to present.” she said.

She’s encouraging everyone to care for their bodies and take precautionary steps this winter.