Prevent skin cancer by practicing sun safety

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Prevent skin cancer by practicing sun safety

Warm weather, sunny days – sounds ideal for spending time outdoors.  But be careful.  The more time and greater frequency spent outside in the sun, the greater your risk for developing skin cancer.  And many of us already know all too well, the damaging effects the sun can do to our skin.

With over 5 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the United States each year (this includes melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers), skin cancer is the most common cancer in America.  Fortunately, skin cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer.  About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.  May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and is the perfect time to raise awareness of the dangers of unprotected exposure to our skin and to encourage sun-safe habits.

Raising awareness of skin cancer

The first step in protecting ourselves from skin cancer is to be knowledgeable about this disease.  Skin cancer starts in the cells of the skin and is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells.  It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiple rapidly and form malignant tumors.

There are three main types of skin cancers:

·      Basal cell skin cancers

·      Squamous cell skin cancer

·      Melanomas

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are by far the most common cancers of the skin and are mainly found on parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck.  These cancers are strongly related to a person’s sun exposure. These types are much less likely to spread to other parts of the body and become life threatening.

Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, but are more common on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women.  Melanomas are not as common as basal and squamous cell skin cancers but they are far more serious.  If found and treated in the early stages, it can almost always be cured.  But it left alone, melanoma is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body where it can be very hard to treat. 

Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, lung, and colon with one in five Americans who will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018, 91,270 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed (55,510 in men and 36,120 in women) in the United States with an estimated 9,320 people who will die from this disease.   Melanoma accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.  For the last 30 years, the rate of melanoma has been rising.

If melanoma is detected early, there is a 98 percent estimated 5-year survival rate of those diagnosed with malignant melanoma.  The survival rate falls to 63 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 17 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.

Sun-safe habits to practice every day

Our skin is the largest and most exposed organ of the body.  Every day, it is subjected to harmful UV rays, cold and hot temperatures, wind, and pollution.  Therefore, it needs effective means of protecting throughout our lifetime.  The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following prevention guidelines:

·      Stay in the shade

The worst time to be outdoors is when the sun is the strongest – between 10 am and 4 pm.  Also use the “shadow rule” – when your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s harmful UV radiation is stronger and when your shadow is longer, UV radiation is less intense.

·      Avoid sunburns

If you have had five or more sunburns at any point of your lifetime, your risk for melanoma doubles. 

·      Do not use tanning  and UV tanning booths

The use of indoor UV tanning beds can increase the likelihood of developing melanoma by 74 percent.  Using a tanning bed will also increase the chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 2.5 times and can increase basal cell carcinoma by 1.5 times. 

·      Cover up when outdoors

Covering up, including wearing a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses when outdoors, is one of the most effective means of protecting your skin.  The more skin covered the better – wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants as much as possible.

·      Wear sunscreen

Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day.  Apply 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outdoors.  If you are swimming or are sweating excessively, reapply every 2 hours.

·      Examine your entire body every month

Look for changes in moles or appearance of new moles.  If they look suspicious, see a dermatologist right away.  Visit www.SkinCancer.org/selfexamination  to learn how to perform self-examination on knowing how to spot skin cancer.