Weekly Wellness: Practice safety in the sun
COLUMBIA - Golf, softball, walking the dog - with spring and warmer temperatures come more reasons to be outside enjoying the sunshine. Being in the sun means that we need to be diligent about protecting our skin.
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. About 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed in this country each year. Melanoma, a more dangerous type of skin cancer, will account for more than 73,000 cases of skin cancer in 2015.
Basal, squamous, melanoma? What do these words even mean? Well, these are the names of the cells within which the cancers can start. There are basal cells, squamous cells and melanocytes.
Most basal and squamous cell cancers develop on sun-exposed areas of the skin, like the face, ears, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands. Basal cell cancers tend to grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Where squamous cell cancers are more likely to grow into deeper layers of skin and to spread. One important item to note is that both basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers can be cured if found and treated early - when they are small and have not spread.
Melanoma is a bit trickier. Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes (those are the cells that make the skin pigment known as melanin, which gives the skin its color). Melanoma can start on nearly any part of the skin, even in places that are not normally exposed to the sun. Melanoma is almost always curable when it's found in its very early stages. While melanoma accounts for a small percentage of skin cancers, it's much more likely to grow and spread to other parts of the body. Because of this, melanoma causes most skin cancer deaths (accounting for nearly 10,000 of the more than 13,000 skin cancer deaths each year).
The American Cancer Society provides this list of risk factors for skin cancer:
- Too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (from sunlight, tanning beds, sunlamps)
- Pale skin (easily sunburned, doesn't tan much or at all, natural red or blond hair)
- Exposure to large amounts of coal tar, paraffin, arsenic compounds, or certain types of oil
- You or members of your family have had skin cancers
- Multiple or unusual moles
- Severe sunburns in the past
- Weakened immune system
- Older age
This is a list of potential symptoms:
- Any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot, or a new growth (even if it has no color)
- Scaliness, roughness, oozing, bleeding, or a change in the way an area of skin looks
- A sore that doesn't heal
- The spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
- A change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
If you notice any of these on your own body or on the body of a loved one, make an appointment with your physician and get them checked out.
The best ways to lower your risk of skin cancer are to avoid long exposure to intense sunlight and practice sun safety. You can still exercise and enjoy the outdoors while using sun safety at the same time. Here are some ways to be sun safe:
- Seek shade, especially in the middle of the day (between 10 am and 4 pm) when the sun's rays are strongest.
- Stay covered with comfortable, light clothing when you're out in the sun. Choose garments that are made of tightly woven fabrics that you can't see through when held up to a light.
- Use sunscreen and lip balm with broad spectrum protection and a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. And remember you must reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
- Wear hats that are able to shade your face, ears, and neck. (For you baseball cap wearers, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.)
- Wear sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB absorption to protect your eyes and the surrounding skin.
- Avoid other sources of UV light (i.e. tanning beds and sun lamps).
I hope you'll stay sun safe this summer.