Summer has finally arrived in North Idaho, and while you prepare to spend more time outdoors, remember to protect your body’s largest organ – your skin!
While many people just worry about getting a sunburn from sun overexposure, there are other risks to extended exposure, one of which is developing melanoma. Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops when melanocytes–that is, the cells that turn your skin tan when exposed to the sun–start to grow out of control.
Skin cancer accounts for about 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States, and, while melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer, it is one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer, because it is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body. One of the most significant risk factors in developing melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.
You Can Take Measures To Prevent Developing Melanoma
While you can’t do anything about your genetic make-up, you can do something about your exposure to UV rays. Here are four simple precautions you can take to reduce your risk of developing melanoma.
1: Limit Your Sun Time
Northern Idaho, being fairly far up in the northern hemisphere, has long summer days. If you want to enjoy the outdoors, avoid going out when the sun’s rays are the strongest, usually between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M.. This is especially true in the summertime, when the tilt of the earth means that you are getting sunlight more directly. Believe it or not, it also matters what elevation you are: the higher the elevation, the more UV rays reach the ground.
Of course, it is not always convenient or fun to stay inside on beautiful sunny days, so, if you do go out during peak sun hours, try to stay in the shade. Not only is it more comfortable in terms of temperature, but it means that fewer UV rays will reach you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking clouds are the same as shade: clouds block very few UV rays. And remember that UV rays can penetrate windows and water and reflect off of water and sand.
2: Wear Sun-Protective Clothing
Clothing that shades your skin from direct UV rays is helpful, so put on a loose, long-sleeved shirt, skirt, or pants, and a wide-brimmed hat when you know you are going to be out in the direct sun. While you may be tempted to wear shorts and a tank top to stay cool, that extra sun exposure can be very damaging. Nowadays, you can obtain some very good UV protective clothing that breathes well and still keeps you cool.
3: Don’t Forget Your Eyes
Thankfully, sunglasses today are a fashion statement, so it is not hard to convince someone to wear sunglasses, but do you know that, in addition to making you look cool, sunglasses can protect you? Not only do they protect your eyes from UV rays, but they can also protect the sensitive, delicate skin around your eyes.
4: Slather On the Sunscreen
Sunscreens come in all types these days, so make sure you read the label. You should select a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, and get one with a high SPF (sun protection factor).
The SPF indicates the level of protection from UVB rays, and the higher the number, the higher the level of protection. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 means that 30 minutes in the sun is equivalent to spending one minute in the sun without any sunscreen, and will screen out about 97% of the sun’s rays. As the SPF number increases, the protection increases, but only very incrementally, and no sunscreen can screen out all UV rays.
Getting a cancer diagnosis is not something anyone wants to experience. So, when you can, try to avoid it by taking preventative measures. In the case of melanoma, do these simple things that will protect you, and share these tips with your children and your grandchildren, so that they develop good sun protection habits and avoid skin damage in their early years that could affect them years down the road.
Beacon Cancer Care specializes in providing comprehensive, integrated care for patients diagnosed with all types of cancer, including extensive experience in treating melanoma. If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, contact Beacon Cancer Care today, and find out what we can do to assist you on your cancer treatment journey.