An unsuspected killerWhile enjoying a nice day in the sun, deadly skin cancer rarely crosses the mind. However, one blistering sunburn doubles the risk for developing skin cancer. Repeated and extended sun exposure can induce a mole which, once malignant, becomes a deadly skin cancer: Melanoma.
By: Leah Stinson, Echo Press Intern, Alexandria Echo Press
While enjoying a nice day in the sun, deadly skin cancer rarely crosses the mind.
However, one blistering sunburn doubles the risk for developing skin cancer.
Repeated and extended sun exposure can induce a mole which, once malignant, becomes a deadly skin cancer: Melanoma.
Melanoma is one of the deadliest and most abundant cancers today. There is only a 50 percent five-year survival rate.
And melanoma is on the rise.
In 1960, only one in 3,000 people suffered from melanoma; today, one in 70 will develop this deadly disease.
This era has even been dubbed the “Melanoma Epidemic.”
“We’ve seen increased numbers every year,” said Daniel Elieff, MD and founder of Midwest Clinic of Dermatology in Alexandria and St. Cloud.
Why are rates skyrocketing? Although the depleting ozone layer can be held partially accountable, the surge in artificial tanning and sun-tanning is really to blame, according to health experts.
DANGERS OF TANNING BEDS
A single session in a tanning bed doubles the risk of developing melanoma, say health experts.
Twenty-eight million Americans use tanning salons; 2.3 million of them teenagers, most of them female.
In fact, melanoma kills more young women than any other cancer.
Claims that tanning beds will help build up a “base tan” and prevent sunburn should be ignored, say health researchers.
Tanning beds provide UVA rays; sun exposure provides both UVA and UVB rays. The pigments from the UVA rays in tanning salons will not protect against UVB rays. While skin may not look burned, the damage is still occurring.
According to Jason Rivers, professor of dermatology at the University of British Columbia, “It’s like saying you should smoke to prevent cancer.”
“UVA does a lot of things,” Elieff said. Two of these things include the destruction of collagen, which prevents lines and wrinkles, and elastin, which allows skin to stretch and bounce back.
“It’s hard for teens to picture themselves with wrinkles,” said Elieff. However, a collagen and elastin deficit means imminent wrinkles.
Elieff remarked that a very sad aspect of artificial tanning is its addictive qualities, though even seldom usage is harmful. “It’s not OK to just occasionally use the tanning salon,” said Elieff.
UV penetration rates are at a historical high, which results in a greater risk for skin cancer. Sunburn can start within 15 minutes of being in the sun.
Some claim to spend copious amounts of time outside to “get some vitamin D,” but this justification is illogical. There are plenty of ways to compensate for lack of vitamin D from sunlight. Ample vitamin D can be absorbed by drinking orange juice, milk fortified with vitamin D or taking a supplement.
Know your risk level for melanoma. Factors that heighten the risk of developing melanoma include:
-Sun-sensitive skin that is pale or burns or freckles easily.
-A history of spending too much time in the sun.
-The presence of 15 or more common or dysplastic (irregular) moles.
-A personal or family history of dysplastic moles or melanoma.
-Geographical location; risk increases with proximity to the equator.
Thankfully, melanoma is as preventable as it is deadly. “Sunscreens are still our best way to protect ourselves,” said Elieff.
Something is considered a “sunscreen” when it has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher, but most dermatologists recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
It is also important to ensure sunscreen is labeled as “broad spectrum.” A broad spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays, versus the typical protection of only UVB rays.
Sunscreen should be applied half an hour before sun exposure, as it needs time to soak into the skin in order to be effective.
Four to five tablespoons of sunscreen are sufficient for the entire body.
Sunscreen should then be reapplied every 30 minutes if in and out of the water, regardless of whether or not the sunscreen claims to be waterproof. If simply out in the sun, reapplication should occur every one to two hours.
It is critical to wear sunscreen between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., as that is when the angle of the sun is most direct and therefore, most dangerous.
Other areas to protect include lips, eyes and scalp. Lip balm with SPF can prevent skin cancer in the lips. Sunglasses prevent ocular melanoma and hats can be worn to protect the scalp.
Staying protected from the sun doesn’t mean condemnation to pale skin for the rest of your life, though.
Spray tans and lotions with bronzers are both safe and viable options for those who refuse to give up their tan skin. However, neither of these are substitutes for sunscreen.
Although preventative measures are extremely beneficial, it is still possible to develop melanoma. Thus, skin should be periodically checked for dysplastic moles.
Check your own skin once a month. Elieff recommends checking skin when the phone bill is received to make sure this crucial practice is not neglected.
While checking skin for melanomas, five signs should be taken into account, also known as the ABCDEs of melanoma.
A stands for asymmetry.
B stands for border irregularity. Any mole that does not have a uniform circle border is cause for worry.
C stands for color. A melanoma generally has multiple colors including tan, brown and black.
D stands for diameter. A diameter of six or more millimeters should be checked.
E stands for evolution. If you perceive a change in a mole, it is possibly a melanoma.
If you notice one or more of these signs, an appointment with a dermatologist should be made immediately.
It’s important to be vigilant of backs of legs and backs, both of which are commonly overlooked.
Skin should be checked by a professional at least once a year. If there’s a personal history of melanoma, biannual checkups should be scheduled. Checkups can generally be done at physicals if the doctor is asked.
Awareness is the first step toward prevention, and awareness is increasing.
“We’re getting more and more education on it,” said Elieff. Elieff has even noticed schools being more diligent about informing students. Whether you are a parent, friend or stranger, it is important to inform others about the dangers of sun exposure.