Tawny Willoughby, a 27-year-old nurse, posted a graphic picture of herself on Facebook as a warning for others about the hazards of tanning and skin cancer. Her selfie, which went viral, shows the damage to her face from another round of skin cancer treatment.
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, even above breast and prostate cancer. And skin cancer does kill: Every six minutes one American dies from it. However, it is one of the most, if not the most, preventable type of cancer we face. These are some staggering statistics that speak to the fact that either people are unaware or ignoring the risks of the fact that 90% of skin cancers are associated with sun exposure and tanning beds. Add to that, a study published last year found that getting five or more blistering sunburns before age 20 may increase a person’s melanoma risk by 80 percent.
I understand the sun’s rays make us feel good and, too, we may think it gives a healthy glow – but going below the surface there are serious health risks that can develop with our exposure to the sun or tanning booths. I want to ensure you are aware of these facts along with some helpful measures to protect yourself – and your loved ones.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know: To Avoid, Protect Against, and Block the Harmful Ultraviolet Radiation that Causes Skin Cancer
• The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are at their strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Whenever possible, schedule outdoor activities outside of those times.
• Tanning beds. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a “black-box warning” stating that tanning beds should not be used on persons under the age of 18 years. Studies show that when women use tanning beds more than once a month, they have a 55 percent increased risk of developing melanoma. And melanoma is the second most common cancer in women ages 20-29 years old!
• Protect against
• Clothing is our first line of defense against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and can help protect us by absorbing or blocking much of this radiation. The more skin you can reasonably cover, the better. And while you can have clothing over every square inch of your body, if the sun goes right through it, it’s not much use. The tighter the knit or weave, the smaller the holes and the less UV can get through. Open weave fabrics provide much less protection.
• Head. Our ears, nose, and neck are particularly vulnerable despite being easy to protect. Wear a hat with a broad brim, meaning at least 3 inches wide. Although baseball caps offer protection for the nose they do not provide protection for the ears and neck.
• Sunglasses. UV radiation can cause eye damage: cataracts, macular degeneration, and other conditions that can cause temporary vision loss. Sunglasses are available that can block 100 percent of UV rays.
• Seek out the shade. But remember that while this decreases the harmful effects of UV radiation, it does not completely prevent it. UV rays can reach our skin even when we are under a tree or umbrella on the beach. They can be reflected off of concrete or dry sand.
• Sunblock helps to provide protection against the harmful effects of radiation. The term Sun Protection Factor, known as SPF, is the measure of the sunscreen or sunblock’s ability to prevent UV B damage to the skin. Experts recommend the following: Select a broad-spectrum product that protects against UV-A and UV-B light and has an SPF of 30 or more; apply 1-2 ounces, equivalent to a shot glass, to the entire body 30 minutes before going outside; and reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
A recent study, however, revealed that nearly one-third of sunscreens tested failed to deliver the SPF protection promised on their labels. With that in mind, sunblock and sunscreen are just one aspect of our strategy to protect ourselves from the sun; they do not provide an invincible shield.
Skin checks. It is recommended that we examine our skin head-to-toe every month and see our physician if we notice any new or changing lesions that are concerning. The Skin Cancer Foundation has an easy-to-understand self-examination guide on how to perform a step-by-step exam on its website.
Special note on kids
• Babies under 6 months should never be exposed to direct sunlight. Use a stroller with a hood or canopy and cover their skin, including their arms and legs, with protective clothing. Pediatricians do not recommend using sunscreen or sunblock on babies.
• Children should be taught to practice sun protection from an early age. A bad sunburn can double their risk of developing cancer down the road.
• Be our kid’s role model. Children are like sponges and love to imitate. If they see us protecting ourselves, it is more likely that they will too.
Skin cancer does not discriminate. Although darker skin tones have more melanin which serves as a natural protection, it does not provide a bulletproof shield. Skin cancer affects all genders, skin tones, and ages. By avoiding, protecting against, and blocking ultraviolet radiation, combined with monthly self-examinations, we can prevent up to 90 percent of skin cancers. That is an investment worth investing in.
(Disclosure: This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional. Dr. Nina has used all reasonable care in compiling the current information but it may not apply to you and your symptoms. Always consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.)
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