Preventing skin cancer

Now that summer is upon us, it’s the perfect time to focus on sun safety and skin cancer prevention. Like most ways to reduce your risk for cancer, the preventative steps may be easy, but committing to them isn’t. It may be difficult to make the right choices especially for the young because the risks and consequences seem remote and improbable. I learned firsthand of the long-term effects of too much sun as a teenager growing up in Florida in the 1960s. Although I now protect my skin and stay inside in the mid part of the day, I still had to have a Mohs’ procedure this spring for a skin cancer on my nose. What a wake-up call!

Skin cancer is on the rise among young people between 18 and 39; the Skin Cancer Foundation claims that the rates of skin cancer have grown by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men over the past 40 years, despite an increase awareness of the sun’s deleterious effects. Why? Perhaps looking good now triumphs over protecting oneself to be healthy later in life. Too many people who spend time outdoors still fail to regularly and properly apply sunscreen. In addition, tanning salons are increasingly popular, especially among teens. It is estimated that 2.3 million teens visit a tanning salon at least once a year. Student discounts offered during prom season continue forward, as young and old alike think that tanned skin enhances their attractiveness. Tanning may seem like just an innocuous teenage behavior, but the tanning habit is dangerous. The use of indoor tanning beds not only ages the skin but can also lead to cancer.

New research indicates that using a tanning bed is particularly dangerous for younger users. People who begin indoor tanning have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“Tanning bed use during high school and college conferred a higher risk of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) than did tanning bed use between ages 25 and 35,” said Dr. Mingfeng Zhang, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

In fact, just one indoor tanning session a year while the subjects were in high school or college boosted their risk of developing BCC by 10 percent, and those who tanned indoors more than six times a year had an 82 percent higher risk of developing BCC than non-tanners.

Regardless of age, we all must be more vigilant. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States; indeed, it is the fastest growing cancer affecting more than 2 million people each year. An estimated 8,790 people in the U.S. will die this year from the most deadly skin cancer, melanoma — this is the same as one person every hour. In Georgia alone, 2,360 new cases of skin cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year. To reduce your risk of skin cancer, follow these sun safety tips:

• Regularly apply sunscreen. Use sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 or higher, and remember to reapply. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours and after swimming or sweating. Make sure to use an ounce of sunscreen on your face and enough to generously cover your body. If one bottle lasts you all summer, then you’re not applying enough.

• Although you can get sunburned at any time of day and even on cloudy days, the sun’s rays are strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Stay out of the sun during these hours.

• Don’t forget to slip on your shades. Wear sunglasses with 100-percent UV absorption to protect your eyes and their surrounding skin.

Even when you’re serious about protecting your skin, you may sometimes want the glow of a tan. Luckily, many bronzers and sunless tanning products are widely available on the market, from high end retailers to local pharmacies.

Parents, you must protect your children early on and teach them safety habits as they grow more independent. They may fight you now, but when they are in their 30s, 40s and beyond, they will love you for it. It’s never too late to start making the right choices. Start each day with a moisturizer with sunscreen and get your children and grandchildren in the habit too. Be sure to follow these tips every day and have a wonderfully safe summer!

Betty Price, M.D. is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, spouse of U.S. Rep. Tom Price, M.D. and a Roswell City Councilmember.

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