Here Comes the Sun: Skin Cancer Awareness
Sunburn Can Be Painful and May Lead to Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. It is estimated that nearly 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. Melanoma rates in the United States doubled from 1982 to 2011.— American Academy of Dermatology, 2017
Skin Cancer Destroys Lives
The number of people being diagnosed with melanomas and skin cancers in recent years has increased dramatically. Skin cancer is now the most common form of cancer in some countries. However, if it is identified early enough, it is also one of the most treatable.
Medical and nursing professionals, health boards, community groups and charities all offer advice to reduce the incidence of cancer. Their campaigns focus on stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight and taking regular exercise. These lifestyle changes are a good start. To reduce your risk, you also need to prevent the sun from damaging your skin. Burns to the dermis and epidermis can lead to cell changes and melanoma. Melanomas are life-threatening and can be terminal. The following video shows how skin cancer could affect you.
Dear 16-year-old Me: Lives Touched by Melanoma
Consult Your Doctor
This article is for general information only. For health advice you should consult a medical doctor or nurse practitioner.
Protect Your Skin From Sunburn
To reduce the risk of getting skin cancer or melanoma you should avoid getting burnt by the sun.
If your skin is exposed to the sun, protect it using a proprietary sunscreen.
Keep out of the midday heat when the sun’s rays are strongest.
Cover up against the sun with long sleeves, long pants and wide-brimmed floppy hats.
Sunscreen creams provide protection against UVA and UVB rays. You should check the SPF and star ratings on a product to see how much protection it gives.
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) ratings relate to Ultra-Violet B rays (UVB). These are short rays that penetrate the upper layers of the skin and cause burning. The SPF number indicates how long you can remain in the sun if your skin is covered with that sunscreen. For example, your unprotected skin may start to burn after 10 minutes in the sun. Wearing an SPF15 cream would increase your “start to burn” time to 150 minutes (10 x 15). The higher the SP number, the longer you could stay in the sun before your skin is affected by UVB rays.
Star ratings (1 to 5 stars) are a relatively new scoring system and do not yet appear on all sun creams. They indicate the level of protection against Ultra-Violet A rays (UVA). UVA penetrates to the deeper layers of your skin. They cause less visible, but more serious long-term damage than UVB rays. The higher the star rating the better and most experts recommend a minimum of 4 stars.
Simple Steps to Protect Against Sunburn
Do you wear sunscreen whenever you go outside in the sun?
Understanding SPF Protection Factors
Amount of Harmful Rays Blocked
Blocks 93% of UVB
Blocks 97% of UVB
Blocks 98% of UVB
Not All Sunscreens Are Equal
Research (2017) by Consumer Reports shows that not all sun creams give the protection claimed on the bottle. Their key finding is that you do not have to buy an expensive brand to get a good sun shield. Their top 3 recommendations are Equate Sports Lotion SPF50, Pure Sun (Disney’s Frozen) Defense Lotion SP50 and Trader Joe’s Spray Sunscreen SP50.
They also recommend which I particularly like as it is fragrance free. These are all broad-spectrum sun creams which means they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. A summary of the results of their study is given in the video below. NO-AD Sport Active Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
Consumer Reports Tests Top Sunscreens
How to Use Sunscreen Effectively
- Apply at least 15 to 30 minutes before you go into the sun.
- Reapply every two hours.
- Reapply after swimming, washing or toweling down skin.
- Use enough sun cream! Apply at least one teaspoonful to each arm, leg, bums, tums, in fact each part of your body needs at least a teaspoonful.
- Ask a friend or family member to apply sunscreen to areas you cannot reach.
Reapply Sunscreen After Swimming
Why Are Skin Cancer Rates Increasing?
No-one really knows why skin cancer and melanoma rates are increasing. It may be that people living longer have more time to develop the disease. It could be we spend more time in the sun than our forebears did so increasing our risk. There may be genetic factors involved. Or there could be lifestyle changes brought about by increased affluence that have heightened our susceptibility. There might also be environmental factors linked to climate change such as a decrease in sun protection provided by the ozone layer. There are many theories but no certainties.
Skin cancer and melanoma can be disfiguring and are sometimes fatal. It only takes a few moments to apply sunscreen or cover up against the sun and it could save your life. If you notice any of the following ABCDE changes to any moles or freckles on your body (see table below) you should visit your doctor for advice as soon as possible.
The ABCDE Guide to Signs of Melanoma
A is for Asymmetry
One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for Border
The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
C is for Color
The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
D is for Diameter
The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
E is for Evolving
The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Melanoma is more than 20 times more common in whites than in African Americans. Overall, the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 2.5% (1 in 40) for whites, 0.1% (1 in 1,000) for blacks, and 0.5% (1 in 200) for Hispanics.— American Cancer Society