With the hot and humid days of August and end-of-summer getaways, it is still important to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types. More than 3.5 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, and more than 76,000 cases of melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) are expected to be diagnosed in 2014.
“To protect your body from heat and possible infection during the hot days of summer, you should use a sunscreen lotion with an SPF of at least 30,” said Dr. Raymond Elsoueidi, board certified medical oncologist/hematologist at the ARH Cancer Center in Hazard. “Make sure you apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and continue to apply it again every two hours after swimming or sweating.”
Did you know the sun’s rays can go through light clothing, windshields, windows and clouds? Dr. Elsoueidi suggests you wear long sleeves and long pants (tightly woven fabrics are best) along with a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, neck and ears. Keep in mind that baseball caps and some sun visors only protect parts of your skin. Also wear sunglasses that absorb UV radiation to protect the skin around your eyes, and don’t forget the sunscreen!
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun by avoiding outdoor activities during the middle of the day (10 a.m. until 4 p.m.).
The National Cancer Institute not only recommends that you limit your time in the sun but to stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths. In a recent tanning bed study, they found the strongest evidence yet of increased melanoma among those who engaged in indoor tanning frequently.
“It is very important to limit sun exposure, especially during the hottest part of the day,” explained Dr. Elsoueidi. “UV radiation is a major risk factor for skin cancer.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, studies have shown these risk factors for the three most common types of skin cancer:
• Sunlight: Sunlight is a source of UV radiation. It’s the most important risk factor for any type of skin cancer. The sun’s rays cause skin damage that can lead to cancer.
• Severe, blistering sunburns: People who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn are at increased risk of skin cancer. Although people who burn easily are more likely to have had sunburns as a child, sunburns during adulthood also increase the risk of skin cancer.
• Lifetime sun exposure: The total amount of sun exposure over a lifetime is a risk factor for skin cancer.
• Tanning: Although a tan slightly lowers the risk of sunburn, even people who tan well without sunburning have a higher risk of skin cancer because of more lifetime sun exposure. “Skin cancer is more common in locations where the sun is strong,” noted Dr. Elsoueidi. “For example, more people in Florida get skin cancer, but also keep in mind the sun is strong at higher elevations such as the Appalachian Mountains.” According to Elsoueidi, skin cancers are named for the type of cells that become malignant (cancer). The three most common types are:
• Melanoma: Melanoma begins in melanocytes (pigment cells). Most melanocytes are in the skin. Melanoma can occur on any skin surface. In men, it’s often found on the skin on the head, on the neck, or between the shoulders and the hips. In women, it’s often found on the skin on the lower legs or between the shoulders and the hips.
• Basal cell skin cancer: Basal cell skin cancer begins in the basal cell layer of the skin. It usually occurs in places that have been in the sun. For example, the face is the most common place to find basal cell skin cancer. In people with fair skin, basal cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer.
• Squamous cell skin cancer: Squamous cell skin cancer begins in squamous cells. In people with dark skin, squamous cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer, and it’s usually found in places that are not in the sun, such as the legs or feet.
However, in people with fair skin, squamous cell skin cancer usually occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, such as the head, face, ears and neck.
Unlike moles, skin cancer can invade the normal tissue nearby. Also, skin cancer can spread throughout the body. Melanoma is more likely than other skin cancers to spread to other parts of the body. Squamous cell skin cancer sometimes spreads to other parts of the body, but basal cell skin cancer rarely does.
“Getting a tan may increase your risk of developing another skin cancer,” added Dr. Elsoueidi. “If you see any changes in your skin, it is best to schedule a check up with a dermatologist.”
ARH is a not-for-profit health system serving 350,000 residents across Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia. Operating 10 hospitals, multi-specialty physician practices, home health agencies, HomeCare Stores and retail pharmacies, ARH is the largest provider of care and single largest employer in southeastern Kentucky and the third largest private employer in southern West Virginia.