Ladies and gentlemen,
The sun has finally decided to grace us with its presence! The sun has the ability to positively influence our lives in many ways – it facilitates the release of serotonin (our “feel good” hormone), the production of Vitamin D (important for bone health) and just plain ol’ sparks of joy. However, as we all know, the sun can also bring with it dangers to our skin.
So, in recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month (observed every May), and as we all start crawling out of the woodwork to enjoy the warm and sunny weather, here are a few important things to consider:
Skin Cancer is the MOST COMMON form of cancer in the United States.
Even though it is the most common, it is actually one of the most preventable forms of cancer! There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) – This is the most common type of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that “an estimated 4.3 million cases of BCC are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths.”
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) – (Say it with me now) This is the second most common type of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 1 million cases of SCC are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, resulting in more than 15,000 deaths.
- Melanoma – This one is the least common, but the most dangerous; in fact, the American Cancer Society has published the staggering statistic that “one person dies of melanoma every hour.” (Access the American Cancer Society’s full 2018 report here.)
A short term decision with long-term consequences
Most of us can relate to the feel goods that come along with having a nice, bronze tan. But, this tanned skin doesn’t often last very long, although some do choose to maintain tan skinned year-long via tanning beds. Regardless, what we don’t always realize are the consequences that can come years down the road from these short-term decisions.
Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek & Slide!
We can help reduce our risk of developing skin cancer by following these five simple sun-protection measures: slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.
There are plenty of UV-protective clothing items you can slip on, countless varieties of sunscreen to slop on, fashionable hats to slap on, multiple places to seek shelter and super stylish UV/Polarized sunglasses to slip on.
Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen will help protect you against both UVA and UVB rays. What’s the difference between UVA and UVB? UVA rays can penetrate down into the deeper dermal layer of the skin, which can cause wrinkling, pigmentation and premature aging (and can still initiate skin cancer growth!) UVB rays tend to damage only the upper layer of the skin (epidermis), which is more likely to lead to sunburns and skin cancer. With UVA, think “you are AGING” and UVB, “you are BURNING.”
You want me to use how much sunscreen?!
Many of us may be guilty of applying sunscreen once and then forgetting to reapply, or simply not knowing when or how much to reapply. Elizabeth K. Hale, MD,of the Skin Cancer Foundation gives us a helpful rule of thumb: apply about “the equivalent of a shot glass (two tablespoons) of sunscreen to the exposed areas of the face and body – [or] a nickel-sized dollop to the face alone.” It should be reapplied every two hours, or more frequently if you are swimming, toweling off or have heavily perspired.
Some experts differ on their recommendation of what level of sun protection factor (SPF) to use, but sticking somewhere around SPF 30 may be the best choice. What the SPF tells you is the percentage of the UVB rays that is being blocked. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “An SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation, while an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks nearly 97 percent.” An SPF of 50 has a marginal increase of about 98 percent protection. The controversy exists between using these higher SPFs and whether or not it is necessary. (Want to learn more? Read more about that topic here.)
Be sure to check the Daily UV Index
It is often recommended to avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the rays are at their highest. In addition, by reviewing the the Daily UV index, you are able to see how much protection might be needed for any given activity. Have a kids’ baseball game to attend? Plan on kicking back at a country music fest this summer? Whatever it may be, this little tool can help you know what kind of precautions to take.
Now, if you don’t have access to a computer or smartphone, you can always pretend to be a groundhog with the following technique: “See a Short Shadow? Seek Shade!” Researchers at the American Skin Association state that “the intensity of UV rays is directly related to the angle of the sun or altitude above the horizon. The shadow rule indirectly determines the sun’s altitude by observing the length of a person’s shadow during the course of the day. When a person’s shadow is shorter than the person is tall, the intensity of the UV rays from the sun is more likely to cause sunburn.”
The American Academy of Dermatology put together a program in which dermatologists volunteer to do free skin cancer screenings throughout the country. Find a free SPOTme® Skin Cancer Screening site in your area. If there isn’t a free site near you, ask your provider for a recommendation to a local dermatologist. In the meantime, be sure to do a thorough assessment of your skin in a full-length mirror about once a month … get to know your spots!
ABCDEs of Melanoma
It can be hard to assess your own spots without knowing what to look out for. Researchers at the Melanoma Research Foundation have provided the “ABCDEs of Melanoma” to help you better understand:
|A- Asymmetrical Shape||Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.|
|B- Border||Typically, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.|
|C- Color||The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.|
|D- Diameter||Melanoma lesions are often greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser.|
|E- Evolution||The evolution of your mole(s) has become the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.|
In regards to lesions other than melanoma, it is also important look for any pink/tan/skin-colored scaly spots that are slow to heal, lesions that bleed, lesions that come on suddenly, etc. These may indicate precancerous lesions, basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and more.
Did you know?
- Bob Marley passed away from Melanoma, which originated under his toenail at the age of 36. Melanoma has the capability of metastasizing to distant lymph nodes and other organs. When caught early, the survival rate increases tremendously. (Source)
- Sunscreen can be purchased with your FSA/HSA accounts! According to the Payflex website of qualifying items, the cost of an OTC sunscreen product with an SPF 15 or higher is an eligible medical expense.
- 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. (Source)
- Only 20 to 30 percent of melanomas are found in existing moles, while 70 to 80 percent arise on apparently normal skin. (Source)
- On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns. (Source)
- People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent. (Source)
- People with more than 50 moles, atypical moles, or large moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma, as are those with light skin and freckles, and those with a personal or family history of melanoma. (Source)
Blog Post written by Whitney Soto, RN with an interest in skin conditions. Soto is a member of the One to One Wellness Health Coaching Team at the Center for Healthy Living on Purdue University’s West Lafayette campus.