By Tiffany Engelken, APRN-C
As our outdoor activities get into full swing, it is that time of year to review the dos and don’ts of sun protection. Sun exposure is the number one modifiable risk factor in the prevention of skin cancer. Sun exposure causes about 90 percent of all skin cancers.
The statistics are a compelling reminder of why we should protect our skin. According to the Skin
• One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
• Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma at least once.
• Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer.
• Actinic keratosis is the most common pre-cancer; it affects more than 58 million Americans.
• One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 52 minutes).
• Melanoma accounts for less than 1 percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
• The vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. In fact, one UK study found that about 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
• The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 98 percent in the U.S. The survival rate falls to 63 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 17 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.
• Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25 to 29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15 to 29 years old.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
• Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen on a daily basis, at least an SPF of 15 for daily use and 30 or higher if you are in the direct sun.
• Reapply every two hours if you are in the direct sun, more frequently if you are in the water.
• Ultraviolet Radiation that causes sunburn and skin cancer is not blocked by the clouds—please wear sunscreen even on cloudy days.
• Avoid prolonged sun exposure during the hours of 10 am to 4 pm.
• Wear hats and sunglasses.
• Avoid intentional tanning. You will tan through sunscreen, but a tan is damage to the skin. There is no benefit in a “base tan” prior to a trip to a tropical location. You will still need to apply sunscreen when you are on vacation and you will still burn if you do not reapply.
Sunscreen tips and facts
• SPF (Sun Protective Factor) is the ratio of the minimal dose of UV light needed to cause redness of sunscreen-protected skin, divided by the minimal dose of sunlight needed to cause redness of unprotected skin. A sunscreen with a SPF of 15 will effectively reduce UV skin absorption by 94 percent, a SPF 30 by
97 percent, and a SPF 50 will reduce absorption by 98 percent.
• Choose a sunscreen that is “broad-spectrum.” This means that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
• “Water-resistant” will be specified as either 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Make sure you reapply after swimming or sweating.
• Apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to outdoor activities.
• Reapply every two hours. Do not rely on redness to indicate the need to reapply sunscreen because sunburn does not occur until hours after sun exposure.
• Sunscreen does expire. Look for the expiration date on the bottle and discard if it is past the expiration date.
• To adequately cover the face, arms, legs, and upper torso, an average-sized adult requires
1 ounce of sunscreen. This is enough to fill a shot glass. Most people apply only 25 to 50 percent of the amount of sunscreen used during SPF testing.
Don’t forget to protect your eyes
• Wearing large-frame sunglasses that absorb 100% UVA and UVB can protect your eyes from cataracts, ocular melanoma and skin cancer of the skin around the eyes.
What about UV clothing?
• Clothing and hats are your first line of protection from the sun.
• Wear a broad-brimmed hat that protects the face, ears and back of the neck.
• Collared shirts and long sleeved shirts will provide more protection than a t-shirt.
• You can purchase specifically UPF (Ultraviolet Protective Factor) tested clothing, but the general concept is that tighter woven fabrics will protect better than loosely woven fabrics.
• You can also purchase “Rit Sun Guard” which is a fabric protectant that will give your clothing a UPF of 30.
For questions or to schedule a full body skin exam, please contact the experts at KMC Dermatology at 913-631-6330.
Early detection is key!
Even if you are perfect with sun protection (which, let’s be honest, I don’t think any of us are), cumulative sun exposure over your lifetime, history of sunburn and genetics still predispose some to skin cancers. The majority of skin cancers that are detected and treated early are curable.
Once a month, examine your entire skin surface, including the non-sun exposed areas.
Things to look for include:
• Non-healing sores. Most injuries and bug bites will heal within 4-6 weeks. If it is lasting
longer, have it checked
• A spot that is persistently symptomatic: burns, itches, stings, crusts, scabs or bleeds
• Any mole or brown spot that changes in color, size, thickness, texture or has irregular borders
• Any spot that is an “ugly duckling” or stands out from any other lesions on your skin
• See your healthcare provider or dermatologist for a full body skin exam at least once a year.
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