Reduced immune functioning is a major contributor to the development of Merkel cell carcinoma, so as is always the case, it’s important to adopt a healthy lifestyle and keep your immune system strong. And since ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure is believed to be the primary cause of the disease, it’s important to prevent UV overexposure. This is especially true if you have already had MCC, or if any close family member has had the disease or any other skin cancer.
To protect yourself, make these habits part of your daily health care routine:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Don’t get sunburned.
- Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam. [For those who have already had MCC, recommended follow-up after treatment is every month for six months, every three months for the next two years, and every six months thereafter.]
Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD