“Now that I’ve had a skin cancer, it’s hard to believe I was so unaware of the danger for so many years. I was happy to be tan and liked the way I looked.” — Judy Fraser: How Skin Cancer Changed My Life
Let’s begin with this: Reducing the risk of — or even preventing — skin cancer for yourself and your children is an achievable goal.1 But not if you remain unaware of the risk factors, or if you treat those risk factors nonchalantly.
The principle risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It also increases your chances for developing serious eye maladies including cataracts and macular degeneration.2 The major source of UV radiation is the sun, followed by other sources such as tanning beds and welding.
So, why aren’t you protecting yourself and your children from UV radiation?
Perhaps you were unfamiliar with the facts about skin and eye damage from UV. Or possibly you knew the facts but thought it was more important to get a tan — thinking you’d look more beautiful, or more virile. Maybe you think it’s uncool to slather up with sunscreen before going outdoors. Or you might have deceived yourself into thinking you’re not at risk for skin cancer, or that it’s too far in the future to worry about.
Or, is it simply that you know the risks and intend to protect yourself but have yet to develop the necessary sun protection habits?
Whatever is preventing you from adopting sun protection as a daily habit needs to change — it is time to protect yourself and your children.
Let’s look at what might be holding you back
Thinking you look better tanned
If you like your appearance with a tan, then opt for a sunless-tanning lotion.3 Used correctly, sunless tanning products can provide the look of a healthful tan — without the UV damage that contributes to early skin wrinkling and sagging, sun spots, and cancer. But remember, a sunless tan does not protect you from UV exposure — or the long term consequences of UV exposure which are not attractive.
Thinking you’re protected by skin color
For dark complexioned persons, you do have additional protection against the most common skin cancers — but, you are not immune. While your risks are lower, unprotected UV radiation still increases your odds for premature skin aging and skin cancer, as well as cataracts and macular degeneration.4
Thinking you can wait until you’re older
Unfortunately, the group with the least protection and the greatest long-term risk is the young. UV radiation exposure is more toxic to the them, and it is cumulative throughout their lifetime. No one should wait to start sun protection until they’re older. Childhood and adolescent UV exposure from sun or tanning beds, when it results in even one or two blistering sunburns, is associated with an increased incidence of all skin cancers, especially the most deadly, melanoma.5 Protect your children.
Thinking it’s too difficult or too complicated
To lower your risk of skin cancer — and your children’s risk — you just need to establish the habit of using UV protection before UV exposure. It’s that simple.
More facts about skin cancer
Let’s review some facts about skin cancer as presented by cancer.org.6 Then, in Part 2, I’ll take a look at sun protection strategies as well as tips for adding those strategies to your daily wellness habits.
There are three common skin cancers
- basal cell,
- squamous cell, and
The two most prevalent, basal cell and squamous cell, usually found on sun exposed areas of the skin, account for 5.4 million diagnoses in the U.S. each year, with basal cell outnumbering squamous cell, 8 to 2. Even though basal and squamous cell skin cancers are treatable, especially when detected early, they contribute to an estimated 2,000 deaths in the U.S. annually.
Melanoma, the least common of these (1% of all skin cancers), is the most common cause of skin cancer deaths (80%). In 2016, we expect 76,380 diagnoses and 10,130 deaths in the U.S. alone. Light complexioned persons are twenty times more likely to develop melanoma than those with the darkest complexions, and the risk increases as people age, most likely related to the accumulation of UV radiation exposure.
The two major risk factors for skin cancers are preventable
- exposure to UV radiation; and
- smoking, a lesser risk, known to increase the risk for developing squamous cell skin cancer.
UV radiation increases the risk for all skin cancers — whatever the source
- whether from the sun (especially in the southern states or at high altitudes); or
- from tanning beds (that’s right, tanning beds are not safe, especially for young people)7; or
- from occupational exposures such as in welding.
- NOTE: Even one blistering sunburn, especially in childhood, can double the risk for melanoma.
There are five risk factors for all skin cancers you cannot modify
- fair skin,
- light eyes,
- male gender,
- previous skin cancer, and
- older age.
There are two additional unmodifiable risk factors for melanoma
- more than 50 moles (or unusual moles), and a
- close blood relative with melanoma.
The takeaway from all these facts?
Skin cancer is a serious, but in many cases, preventable disease. Knowing the facts enables you to change the risk factors you can change and alerts you to the increased need for vigilance when you have risk factors you cannot change. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll tell you how to protect yourself and your children from the number one preventable risk factor, UV radiation exposure. In Part 3, I’ll go over the importance and the process of regular skin checks for all family members.
Let’s reflect on God’s word
With the new covenant of Jesus Christ, you “…know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NKJV). Since our skin provides protection to the internal systems so vital to the survival and productiveness of this temple, we are called upon to preserve its integrity. With the facts you’ve learned about skin cancer and its risk factors you can now proceed to protect yourselves — and your children — from preventable skin cancer.
Now, let us pray
Dear Heavenly Father,
We approach You with our hearts and minds open, asking You for help as we consider a course of action to reduce our risk of skin cancer. We understand the causes and consequences of this cancer, but we are weak, distracted, or vain. We pray earnestly, Father God, for You to give us the strength to overcome our human frailties and follow a plan to reduce our own — and our family’s — risk of skin cancer. We pray this in Jesus’s name. Amen
Skin Cancer Survivors’ Testimonials
I Felt Betrayed, Lied to, and Scared - SkinCancer.org. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2016, from http://www.skincancer.org/true-stories/former-indoor-tanner
“Three weeks later the doctor called to tell me that the ‘freckle’ was a melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer. I dropped the phone, and broke down. I had truly believed what I’d been taught by the industry — that tanning prevented certain cancers and that the industry had the documents and scientists to back up these claims. Instead it seems I’d had a death wish…”
The Scariest Year, the Luckiest Year - SkinCancer.org. (2016, June 12). Retrieved from http://www.skincancer.org/true-stories/the-scariest-year-the-luckiest-year
“Most people are mystified when they hear that I got skin cancer. They didn’t think I was the type. I don’t fit the profile: I am 30 years old with no freckles or moles and have olive skin that never burns…”
How Skin Cancer Changed My Life - SkinCancer.org. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2016, from http://www.skincancer.org/true-stories/how-skin-cancer-changed-my-life
“Now that I’ve had a skin cancer, it’s hard to believe I was so unaware of the danger for so many years. I was happy to be tan and liked the way I looked…”
Your eyes and solar radiation. UV Protection. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/uv-protection?sso=y ↩︎
Sunless Tanning: Best Fake Tanning Lotions and Sprays. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun/sunless-tanning?page=1 ↩︎
Skin Cancer and Skin of Color - SkinCancer.org. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/skin-cancer-and-skin-of-color ↩︎
Melanoma risk for young people using tanning beds | Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis | The BMJ. (2016, May 21). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from http://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e4757 ↩︎
CDC - Indoor Tanning - Skin Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/indoor_tanning.htm (Indoor tanning is not safe) ↩︎