Living an outdoor active lifestyle and tackling the surf can lead to tons of sun exposure, especially UV rays reflecting off the water. May is “Skin Cancer Awareness” month, and good thing as we strip down as warmer temperatures. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention established that in 2009 there were 61,646 people diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, with 9,199 fatal cases that year. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, most easily cured with early detection.
There are some risk factors and traits that lead to greater risk of skin cancer. Some key risk factors to take note of are:
– A lighter natural skin color
– Family or personal history of skin cancer
– Exposure to the sun through work and play
– History of sunburns in early life
– History of indoor tanning
– Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun
– Certain skin types and a large number of moles
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes six different skin types. All of these skin types are at risk, however, type I and type II are the highest at risk. The types are defined as:
1. Always burns, never tans, sensitive to UV exposure.
2. Burns easily, tans minimally.
3. Burns moderately, tans gradually to light brown.
4. Burns minimally, always tans well to moderately brown.
5. Rarely burns, tans profusely to dark.
6. Never burns, deeply pigmented, least sensitive.
There are a few preventative measures that can be taken to help lower your risk of skin cancer for all types of activities. The best way to prevent exposure to sun is to seek shade, wear clothing to protect exposed skin, wear sunglasses that wrap around to block UVA and UVB rays, and avoid indoor tanning beds. Not cool.
While surfing, try to wear a long-sleeve rash guard to protect your skin and apply sunblock more than 30 minutes before entering the water. Waterproof sunscreen is recommended, and must be reapplied at least every 80 minutes. Check the label for detailed instructions.
Fortunately, sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher can greatly help with sun exposure. Sunscreen SPF numbers rate the effectiveness of blocking UV rays with the highest numbers indicating more protection. Most sun products work by absorbing, reflecting or scattering sunlight. All sunscreens vary by their ingredients, so if your skin reacts badly to one, there are alternatives to try. Do not forget that after 2 hours in the sun, extended periods in the sun or sweating can wear off sunscreen making reapplying necessary. Also remember that sunscreen has expiration dates and they can expire a bit faster if exposed to high temperatures.
Skin cancer is one of the easiest cancers to cure, and early recognition is key. Yearly exams with doctors and self-exams are the best ways to ensure early diagnosis if anything is abnormal. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers a step-by-step guide to self-examination at: www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/early-detection/step-by-step-self-examination.
Some key warning signs are:
– A skin growth that increases in size or appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored.
– A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode or bleed.
– An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.
– A mole, birthmark, beauty mark or any brown spot that:
> Changes color
> Increases in size or thickness
> Changes in texture
> Irregular in outline
> Bigger than the size of a pencil eraser
> Appears after age 21
For more information on skin cancer prevention and care visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention at: www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/prevention.htm or the Skin Cancer Foundation at: http://www.skincancer.org.