As we head into the delightful days of sunshine and summertime, there’s no better time to bring awareness to proper skin protection – May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Awareness Month. While learning about the negative side effects of basking in the sun may not be the cheeriest discussion to kick of your summer fun, it is the most important.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, but “skin cancer” is actually a pretty broad term. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, the two most common types of skin cancers, are fortunately highly curable. However, the deadliest form of skin cancer is the third most common type: melanoma. According to the U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group’s study, in 2013 (the most recent year these statistics are available) 71,943 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin. About 13 percent of those diagnosed died.
You may be thinking that’s a large amount of the population and wanting to avoid contributing to any of those statistics; you may ask whether or not you’re at risk. While genetics do a play a role in some individuals, skin cancer can’t necessarily be predicted, but there are several factors such as race, ethnicity, location, and behavior that can put you at a higher risk. Among men, white men are the most at risk for developing melanoma of the skin, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and black men. Among women, white women are the most at risk of developing melanoma of the skin, followed by Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, and black women.
Trends among different states also tend to indicate the likelihood of getting skin cancer. And Georgia isn’t doing so well in that department. In fact, there are more skin cancer diagnoses in Georgia than in Florida, the Sunshine State. Studies show that there is a range of 24.4 to 37.3 cases per 100,000 people who developed or died from melanoma of the skin in a given year. Georgia is actually one of only 12 states in the United States with such high melanoma rates.
The next predictor of developing skin cancer is highly controllable. (Thank goodness!) Two words: Behavior rates. How you take care of your skin and what you expose your skin to play a large role in the risk of developing skin cancer. A history of sunburns, especially early in life, and a history of indoor tanning are often characteristics of those who develop skin cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Avoiding sunburns and intermittent high-intensity sun exposure (especially in children, teens, and young adults) can reduce the chances of getting melanoma skin cancer.” However, teens and young adults, typically females, are often attracted to the idea of getting tan – just something to think about, whether you are in that age range or you are a parent of someone who is.
In any case, the most prominent risk factor of developing skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet rays, whether that is from the sun or indoor tanning. According to Cancer Research U.K., overexposure causes damage to genetic material in skin cells, and if enough damage builds up over time, these cells begin to grow uncontrollably, which can lead to skin cancer. Tan skin is often seen as attractive, glowing, even healthy; however, the CDC puts that relation to rest with this tough, but factual statement: A tan does not indicate good health. A tan is a response to injury, because skin cells signal that they have been hurt by UV rays by producing more pigment.
Before we even talk sunscreen and other UV radiation blocking mechanisms, it’s important to know that protection is vital year-round, not just when it’s hot. You must also remember to protect yourself from the sun on cloudy days. According to the CDC, the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daylight saving time (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time) are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors in the continental United States. UV rays from sunlight are the greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America.
We can’t all huddle up inside during midday hours to avoid UV radiation, nor do we want to! Sunny days are a wonderful gift, and we should enjoy them to the fullest, just with a few extra sun safety mechanisms. A few of these include finding some shade, wearing clothing (including a hat and shades) that provides some coverage, and using sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher. If you plan on being active, the 50 SPF sport sunscreens are excellent choices. In any case, remember to reapply sunscreen as your bottle recommends.
Protecting your skin from UV radiation isn’t rocket science; in fact, it’s one of the simplest ways you can take action now to protect yourself from skin cancer in the future. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., but it’s also one of the most preventable. What does that tell us? We need to create more awareness on the dangers of skin cancer, and you can certainly make a difference in your area.
Take the month of May to make a difference in your community. If you change just one person’s perspective, whether young or old, on skin cancer awareness and prevention, you could potentially save that person years of their life they could have lost to skin cancer.
Save Yourself From Skin Cancer
HL May/June 2017
By Sarah Turner