by Kimberly Allen, RN
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the US with over 2 million Americans diagnosed every year. Every year more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed than breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers combined and the incidence is increasing. Therefore I believe we can’t talk about prevention enough, especially since approximately 77,000 cases of invasive melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will be diagnosed this year in the US and approximately 9,500 people will die this year from melanoma. Skin cancer is also the number one most preventable skin cancer.
Though it is very important to note that skin cancer prevention should be practiced year round including winter even though it’s the warmer season’s that get more attention. People are heading to the beaches and ballparks in search of summer fun and relaxation. Many are also headed to tanning salons to get that perfect tan before heading out. Exposure to UV rays whether from the sun or a tanning bed the have the same effect, they cause skin cancer.
Preventing skin cancer doesn’t mean you have to stay inside, however, the only tan you should have is the kind that you get from sunless tanning lotions and sprays. You can still enjoy all your outdoor activities you just need to take some precautionary measures to protect your skin from too much exposure to UV rays. It’s also important to realize that it doesn’t have to be a bright sunny day for the sun’s UV rays to cause damage. UV rays can damage your skin even on cloudy, hazy days. UV rays can also reflect off other surfaces like water and snow as well as cement and sand causing damage. The sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10:00AM and 4:00PM daylight saving time in the US. In No America the sun’s UV rays are strongest in late spring and early summer. If possible it is better to stay “under cover” during the hours when the sun’s UV rays are strongest, wither in a shaded area like under a tree or an awning, a large umbrella or gazebo if not inside. However, in reality I know that’s not always possible so if you’ve got great tickets to the ball game but the seats are in the area where you’re going to get lots of UV exposure there are some other things you can do to protect your skin.
The use of sunscreen is one of the single most important things you can do to protect your skin. However, not all sunscreens are created equal. There are 2 types of UV rays, UVA and UVB both can cause damage to your skin can lead to skin cancer so it’s important to choose a sunscreen that is effective against both. These are generally called broad spectrum sunscreens. Today most sunscreens are SPF 15 which is considered by the CDC as well as other agencies to be effective in preventing damage. However, it must be reapplied every 2 hours to maintain it’s effectiveness. To be more clear I should say all sunscreens regardless of SPF should be reapplied every 2 hours. Also, it’s important to understand that any burning or discoloration of your skin is caused by UVB rays and doesn’t tell you how much damage your skin has suffered due to the UVA rays. You should always apply sunscreen to any skin that will be exposed before going outside. Today sunscreen is also in numerous skincare products like shaving cream and make-up. While these are effective in protecting your skin for brief periods while going in and out you need to use a broad spectrum sunscreen for prolonged periods of time.
In addition to sunscreen you should wear sunglasses that offer UV protection, the kind that wrap around are best, and a wide brimmed hat. Yes, the UV rays can damage your eyes. Light colored long sleeves and pants are good too though I know many prefer the shorts and tank tops in hot weather so make sure you’ve got plenty of sunscreen.
There are also certain foods that can help protect your skin from being damaged by UV rays. Studies have shown that foods like bean’s and broccoli, cabbage and chard as well as carrots and pumpkin along with other foods high in beta-carotene and vitamin C help protect against skin cancer. Certain flavanoids like aprigenin and quercetin have also been found to protect your skin from damage by UV rays.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.