Contributed by Bruce Weiss, M.D., M.P.H., Market Medical Director, UnitedHealthcare of Wisconsin
Summer is in full swing and the sun’s rays are beating down in Wisconsin most days of the week. Whether you’re working outside, just relaxing in the backyard or vacationing on the beach, even a moderate amount of exposure to the sun’s rays can damage your skin and even cause cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 1 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. That’s more than breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers combined.
The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable. However, melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous. About 65 to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, according to the CDC.
While risk factors vary with each type of cancer, people with a family history of skin cancer, light or fair skin tones, excessive sun exposure and/or a history of sunburns are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Most cases of skin cancer are caused by prolonged and unprotected exposure to the sun’s UV rays. So if you’re planning on spending time out in the sun, be sure to pack sunscreen – and remember to re-apply sunscreen after sun exposure, swimming or perspiring.
Here are a few additional tips to help keep your skin protected while outside:
Stay in the shade as much as possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most damaging.
- Don’t tan, either in the sun or on a tanning bed. Instead, ask your doctor about safe topical tanning agents. If you’re concerned about having enough vitamin D, most individuals get sufficient amounts of vitamin D from a normal diet combined with incidental exposure to the sun.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and pants, and sunglasses that block UV rays.
- Keep babies 6 months and younger out of direct sunlight. Ask your child’s doctor about whether to use sunscreen on infants under 6 months.
- Be sure your sunscreen is broad-spectrum or provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Read directions and warnings on all medications you take and follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Some medications, such as antibiotics, can increase your sensitivity to the sun and make it more likely that your skin will burn.
- Pay close attention to any changes in your skin, including texture, marks or moles. If these changes occur, consult your doctor or dermatologist. The earlier the treatment, the better the chance of full recovery from any form of skin cancer.
Protection is the best defense against skin cancer, and so is early detection. Whether you’re outside for five minutes or five hours, it is important to always protect your skin. Also, remember that protecting your skin is a full-time job. Exposure to the sun’s rays can be damaging any time of the year. Take the proper precautions and enjoy fun in the sun without worry.