There’s good news and not-so-good news about skin cancer. While it’s the most common form of cancer in the United States – with more cases diagnosed each year than all other cancers combined – it is also one of the most preventable forms.
“Prevention just takes a bit of awareness and preparation every day,” says Lisa Hageman, manager of the Preventive Medicine Initiative at Backus Hospital. “Ninety percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanomas, the deadliest kind, are associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.”
To protect your skin and lower your skin cancer risk, she suggests taking these steps:
- Stay in the shade whenever possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Avoid sun tanning, getting sunburns and UV tanning booths.
- Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher every day. If you’re going to be outside for extended periods, use one that is water resistant and broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) with a SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
“Amazingly, the sun’s UV rays can damage unprotected skin in as few as 15 minutes and it can take as long as 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure,” says Hageman. “That means you may not realize the damage being done until long after you’ve come in from the sun. It’s important to recognize that any change in your skin’s color after you’ve been outside indicates damage from UV rays. Tanned skin is damaged skin.”
There’s much misinformation circulating about the danger of the sun’s rays for your skin, she adds, noting that the facts include:
- The sun’s rays, not the temperature of the day, determines potential danger. Damage to your skin can happen even on cool and cloudy days.
- Anyone can get skin cancer but some things put you at higher risk. Studies suggest that your risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent if you started using artificial tanning before you turn 30 years old.
- Skin cancer is usually the result of sun exposure and blistering sunburns in childhood and cumulative sun exposure through the years. The most important thing we can do is protect our children from early sun exposure.