Mimi Taylor, M.S., public information officer, Eastern Idaho Public Health
With summer practically here, more people will venture outside to work and play. Activities like swimming, hiking, biking, yard work and backyard barbecues will expose our bodies to the harmful effects of the sun. It is important to know the facts about skin cancer and to take necessary sun safety steps to protect our families and ourselves.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is divided into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is a very dangerous form of skin cancer. It is estimated that approximately 87,110 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2017 and about 9,730 are expected to die this year from the disease. Melanoma, if detected early, is highly curable.
Although serious, non-melanoma skin cancers are much less life threatening and easier to treat. Each year, approximately 3.3 million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers with approximately 2,000 deaths associated with this disease.
Can skin cancer be prevented?
Skin cancer is one of the more preventable types of cancer. More than 85 percent of all skin cancers are caused by excessive exposure to the sun. Research shows that one severe sunburn during childhood increases the risk of melanoma later in life. The best way to lower the risk of skin cancer is to practice sun safety. Here are some ways you can do this:
- As much as possible, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Frequently seek shade especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Practice the shadow rule and teach it to children. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
- Apply sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher at least 20 minutes before you go outside. Reapply often — at least every two hours. Use sunscreen even on cloudy days. Sunscreen is not recommended for babies in the first six months of life.
- Slip on a shirt: Cover up with protective clothing to guard as much skin as possible when you are out in the sun, especially if your skin is fair.
- Put on a hat: Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears and neck. If you choose a baseball cap, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
- Wear sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption to provide optimal protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin.
- Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous because they can damage your skin.
By practicing these sun safety strategies, a person can continue to work, exercise and enjoy the outdoors while minimizing their risk of skin cancer. Be smart and safe while in the sun!