Being sun safe never goes out of season. Summertime means more people are heading to the beach or the pool and engaging in outdoor activities. During the summer months, the heat is on to take greater precautions to avoid overexposure to the sun, which can lead to skin cancer.
There are no healthy suntans! Tanning is actually an outward sign of internal damage to the skin. Overexposure to the suns ultraviolet (UV) rays leads not only to cosmetic damage, including dry skin, age spots, and premature wrinkles, but also to skin cancer.
Skin cancer is a deadly disease, growing at epidemic proportions in the U.S. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., with more annual diagnoses than lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined. The statistics are alarming, proving a need to raise awareness and understanding about the harsh realities of overexposure to the suns rays.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the outer layers of your skin. There are several types of cancer that occur in the skin. They are divided into two main types: non melanoma (squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma) and melanoma.
Basal and squamous cell cancers are the most common cancers of the skin and are associated with sun exposure and sunburn incidence over a persons lifetime. These cancers typically form in areas on the body that receive the most sun exposure, such as the head, face, neck, arms, and hands.
Squamous cell carcinoma can spread to lymph nodes, but rarely do non melanoma cancers spread elsewhere in the body.
Melanoma is not as common as non melanoma, but is the most serious type of skin cancer. It can occur anywhere and spread to other sites in the body. Melanoma grows aggressively in cells in the skin called melanocytes and is strongly related to severe sunburns. In recent years, melanoma has affected more young adults in their 20s and 30s.
Skin Cancer Causes
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation affects everyone--fair-skinned, tan-skinned, beach-goers, and mountain-goers. It is present on hot sunny days and cold, cloudy days. Living in places where UV levels are high (such as in southern climates and in the mountains) also increases individuals risks for developing skin cancer.
Studies have found that exposure to sources of UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds increases the risk of developing skin cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, the risk for developing skin cancer is related to lifetime exposure to UV radiation.
Other risk factors include a family history of skin cancer and severe sunburns as a child. It is particularly important to educate and protect children from the dangers of the sun. Even a couple of serious sunburns (with peeling) during childhood can significantly increase the risk for melanoma.
Since most skin cancers can be cured if found and treated early, it is important to recognize some early signs of skin cancer. Symptoms can include skin sores that do not heal, changes in the size and color of moles, and bumps on the skin that are getting bigger.
The ABCDE rule can help you look for signs of skin cancer. When you look at moles on your skin, look for the following:
- Asymmetry: One half of the mole looks different from the other half. If it were folded in half, it would not match.
- Border: The border is irregular, or edges of the mole are scalloped or uneven.
- Color: Color varies from one area to another in the mole. There may be shades of tan or brown, black or blue.
- Diameter: As a general rule, moles larger than 6mm (the diameter of a pencil eraser) should be checked by a doctor.
- Elevation: Elevation means the mole is raised above the surface and has an uneven surface.
Checking your skin regularly for growths or changes and speaking to your physician are good strategies for staying aware and healthy.
The good news is that skin cancer is preventable through increased public awareness, education, and adoption of sun safe behaviors. Being sun safe does not mean having to sacrifice fun and avoid the outdoors. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun.
- Wear clothing that covers more skin, such as sleeved shirts and capris or long pants. Wide-brimmed hats protect the head, face, ears, and neck.
- Wear 100 percent UV protective sunglasses. Prescription lenses should have UV protective coating.
- Reducing the time spent in the sun, especially between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest.
- Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 labeled multi spectrum protection, broad-spectrum protection, or UVA/UVB protection.
Program Coordinator, Sun Safety Alliance
American Cancer Society,1599 Clifton Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA; 30329; 800-ACS-2345; www.cancer.org
Skin Cancer Foundation,149 Madison Ave., Ste. 901 New York, NY 10016; 800-SKIN-490; www.skincancer.org
Sun Safety Alliance, EIC East, 1760 Reston Pkwy, Ste. 415, Reston, VA 20190; 703-481-1414; www.sunsafetyalliance.org
California Dept. of Health, www.avoidskincancer.org
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin
National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin