Summer Sun Safety: UV Rays, Cancer on the Rise

Article

It's that time again: Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month. And what better time than summer to touch on the topic of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the US...

It’s that time again: Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month. And what better time than summer to touch on the topic of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the US (over one million cases are diagnosed annually).

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, claims “an estimated 8,000 lives annually in the US and will strike 62,000 Americans this year.” In addition, the Mayo Clinic has reported that rates of the two less-lethal forms of the disease basal-cell carcinoma and squamous-cell carcinoma have more than doubled amongst the 20 to 39 year-old population.

The More You Know

What is the cause of the rise in incidence? There are a few. One major reason for the increase is the lack of comprehensive educational programs in the US school system. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) School Health Policies and Program Study has indicated that 35 states “have no policies for sun safety programs in elementary, junior/middle, or senior high schools.” This is especially worrying given the increase in incidence of the disease combined with the fact that children and adolescents are a vital target group for skin cancer prevention.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) continually stresses the importance of protecting children from the sun, because sunburns during childhood increase the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers later in life, as the negative effects of excessive UV exposure are cumulative throughout life. Established programs such as SunWise, aimed at “teaching the public how to protect themselves from overexposure to the sun through the use of classroom-, school-, and community-based components,” should be more readily accepted as a regular part of health programs for young children. There is no better prevention than early education.

Although many adults may not realize the full magnitude of the harmfulness associated with overexposure to UV rays, it is not a newsflash that this is not good for the skin. Lifestyle plays a vital role in skin protection, and many individuals intentionally overexpose themselves to the sun without proper protection in order to get a tan. Even those who do try and take the proper precautions may not realize the true power of the sun. The ACS instructs sunbathers to use “broad spectrum” sunscreens, which contain active ingredients that soak up at least 85% of UV rays. In addition, it may be necessary to apply sunscreen several times during prolonged sun exposure: the sunscreen wears off each time an individual sweats or bathes, and reapplications are necessary for adequate protection. As stated in an article featured on MSNBC.com last month, “melanoma is currently the second most common cancer in women age 20 to 29 years.” Unfortunately it is wrinkles, and not skin cancer, that seem to be the focus of concern for this age group.

Myth Busters

Other tips to help prevent overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays include seeking shade during midday hours, the hottest time of day (10AM to 4PM), covering up with clothing to protect exposed skin, wearing hats and sunglasses that are designed to block UV rays, and wearing sunscreen that has a sun protective factor of 15 or greater. Additionally, many myths exist about skin cancer and how much protection is enough. For example, many people believe that a base suntan will help protect from skin cancer; however, this is simply not true. No matter how you look at it, a tan is essentially injury to the skin. When skin cells are under prolonged exposure to the sun, they produce a pigment called melanin in an effort to protect from further damage, and it is this pigment which darkens the skin. A tan is a sign of permanent damage that has been done and “will someday show up in the form of wrinkles, blotches, sagging tissue, and even skin cancer.”

Although all the information provided here seems to suggest that individuals should board up their windows and try to replicate a cave-like environment in which to live, the fact of the matter is that exposure to the sun can be perfectly fine with the proper precautions. By following the tips provided by the ACS, individuals can minimize their skin cancer risk. It should also be mentioned that a moderate degree of solar UV exposure is necessary for the body’s production of vitamin D, which is essential for bone health. So instead of canceling that trip to the beach, simply access the resources below so that you may be able to properly protect yourself and your loved ones from the sun’s powerful UV rays.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Center for Disease Control: Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer Myths

Tips on How to Avoid Overexposure

UV Index

UV Safety Month PDF

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