We’ve had our share of heat so far this summer, even touching the triple digits in July, and after a short reprieve, we’re back into the 90s this week. Even so, this is a great time of year to take time off from work and spend these long summer days outside, lounging poolside or at a beach, nature park, water park or amusement park. We spend a lot of time outdoors, taking in the fresh air — and with it, those warm but potentially harmful ultraviolet rays.
The sun is dangerous, and in some cases, its effects on our skin can lead to deadly consequences. According to the Maryland Dermatologic Society, approximately 95,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. And according to the Melanoma Research Foundation, one person in America dies every day from the disease. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetimes, making it the most commonly occurring cancer in the country.
Those are startling statistics. Fortunately, there are a number of measures everyone can take right now to prevent skin cancer.
The MRF advises staying out of the sun during the middle of the day, when UV rays are strongest. If you must be in the sun, wear a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt, plus sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection. Apply sunscreen with an SPF label of 15 or higher and wait about 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply that sunscreen about every two hours, or after swimming. Lip balms with an SPF of 15 or higher are also recommended.
Parents are urged to make sure kids ages 6 months and older are protected with sunscreen and hats. Use an umbrella at the beach or pool so little ones can stay in the shade. Infants should always be kept in the shade when outside.
In addition to taking preventative measures, it’s wise to get screened for skin cancer once in a while as well, especially if you see a questionable spot you hadn’t noticed before.
The MRF, along with the American Cancer Society, stresses ABCDE when it comes to skin cancer:
A is for asymmetrical, describing the shape of a mole or spot on the skin. Melanoma lesions are often irregular, where as benign moles are generally symmetrical.
B is for border. Typically, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions often have irregular edges that are more difficult to define.
C is for color. The MRF says the presence of more than one color, or the uneven distribution of a mole’s hue can be a warning sign. Benign growths generally are uniform in color.
D is for diameter. Melanoma lesions are often larger than 6 millimeters, or about the width of a pencil eraser.
E is for evolution, or change, in the appearance of a mole. The cancer society stresses that this is the most important factor. Knowing what is normal for you could save your life. If a mole suddenly changes in size, appearance or color, a dermatologist should be consulted immediately.
In 2017, Gov. Larry Hogan joined in the Maryland Dermatologic Society’s effort urging Marylanders to get regular skin cancer screenings, after he previously underwent treatment for non-malignant skin lesions. Hogan said that while his prognosis was “100 percent” cancer free, “I’m gonna keep the sunscreen on, I can tell you that.”
He also enthusiastically signed legislation last year that allows students to bring sunscreen from home and apply it at school without a note from a doctor.
Given the prevalence of skin cancer, the governor’s words are sound advice we could all heed.
Of course, don’t let the statistics keep you from enjoying all the outdoor family fun summer brings. We just ask that you enjoy it safely — and keep slathering on the sunscreen.