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Exposure to sun can skin cancer
Health advice
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Can you believe it’s April? The warm weather has been delayed but sunny days and lots of opportunities to dress in lighter clothing and spend time outside are near.
A recent trip to Tybee Beach made me realize how many people have obviously been sunbathing for months already.
Sun can cause sunburns and other health problems, even on cloudy or winter days. And while beach umbrellas and other kinds of shade are good, they do not always provide full protection. Ultraviolet rays are invisible and can bounce off sand, water and porch decks. In fact, reflective surfaces can bounce back as much as 90 percent of the rays. Ultraviolet rays can also pass through clouds and haze. Also certain medications can make the skin more susceptible to sunburn and sun damage.
Long-term exposure to the sun can be responsible for wrinkles, blotching, dryness, leathering of the skin and skin cancer. People with fair skin; blond, red or light brown hair; and blue, green or gray eyes are at higher risk for skin cancer. People with freckles who burn before tanning and spend a lot of time outdoors are also at greater risk.
Cancer of the skin is the most common of all cancers, and nonmelanomas (usually basal cell and squamous cell cancers) are the most common cancers of the skin. They are called nonmelanoma because they develop from skin cells other than melanocytes (pigment-producing tanning cells) and because they rarely spread elsewhere in the body. More than 90 percent of all skin cancers occur on sun-exposed skin. The face, neck, ears, forearms, and hands are the most frequent areas. The more common types of skin cancer include:
• Basal cell carcinoma usually develops on fair-skinned individuals. It can start as a red patch or shiny bump that is pink, red or white and may be crusty. Or you can have an open sore that does not heal, or heals only temporarily. About 80 percent of the new skin cancer cases will be basal cell carcinoma that can be cured easily if treated early.
• Squamous cell carcinoma are usually seen in about 16 percent of skin cancers. They usually appear as a scaly patch or raised, warty growth. This cancer also has a high cure rate when found and treated early. In rare cases, if not treated, it can be deadly.
• Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer. And while melanoma accounts for only 4 percent of all cases, it is on the rise and is currently causing about 79 percent of all skin cancer deaths. This cancer begins in the pigment producing cells called melanocytes; and because most of the cells keep on making melanin, melanoma tumors are often brown or black mole-like patches with irregular edges. Sometimes these are multicolored with shades of red, blue or white. While having dark skin lowers the risk of melanoma, it does not mean that a person with dark skin will never develop melanoma.
Melanoma has also been linked to excessive sun exposure. Other possible causes include genetic factors and immune system deficiencies. Melanoma is almost always curable in its early stages but it is also likely to spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal.
Be sun safe:
• Generously apply sunscreen to all exposed skin using a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 that provides broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A and UVB rays. Re-apply every two hours, even on cloudy days and after swimming or sweating. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible. Protect children by applying sunscreen often or as directed on the label.
• Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. so limit activities in the sun then. Follow the “Shadow Rule.” If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s damaging rays are at their strongest.
• Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your chance of sunburn.
• Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that includes vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.
• Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds causes skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
• Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is treatable when caught early. Arrange for skin examinations or do them yourself by regularly looking over your entire body, including the back, scalp, soles of feet, between the toes and on the palms of the hands. It’s important to use both full-length and hand-held mirrors so you can see the back of your head, your back and buttocks. If there are any changes in the size, color, shape or texture of a mole, the development of a new mole, or any other unusual changes in the skin, you should see your dermatologist.
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