Despite what many may assume, skin cancer ranks as the most common form of the disease in the U.S., as over two million people receive a skin cancer diagnosis annually. In fact each year more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed than cases of colon, lung, prostate, and breast cancer combined. Over the last three decades, more people have developed skin cancer than all other types of cancers combined.
In the face of such growing numbers, it marks a disturbing trend that millions of Americans still fail to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from the sun’s dangerous rays by not regularly applying sunscreen. A new study even suggests that people who have survived a melanoma diagnosis, the deadliest form of skin cancer, usually fail to protect themselves from the sun.
Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that of the 171 survivors of melanoma who participated in the study, over 25 percent stated they never applied sunscreen when spending more than an hour outside on a bright day, and that a remarkable two percent of those who survived the deadly disease admitted to having used a tanning bed at some point during the last year.
Studies have shown that frequent use of tanning beds dramatically increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.
The results of this study have led researchers to conclude that the American public needs to be better informed about the dangers of skin cancer.
A Clear Danger
While melanoma ranks as the least common form of skin cancer, accounting for less than five percent of the total number of skin cancer diagnosis each year in the U.S., the majority of skin cancer related deaths occur due to this type of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma is also the most likely form of the disease to spread to another part of the body if not caught during an early stage, thereby adding to the disease’s mortality rate.
The primary risk factor for developing melanoma is excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, which is why health experts recommend people limit the time they spend in the sun without taking precautions, such as staying in shaded areas, using sunscreen, and covering up when outside. Experts also strongly recommend against the use of tanning beds.
Despite knowing the risks first hand of what excessive exposure can cause, researchers discovered that many melanoma survivors would willingly ignore these recommendations when heading outside. However, not all cancer survivors took such unnecessary risks.
Of those surveyed, one-third of melanoma survivors stated they always wore sunscreen during times were they expected to remain outdoors for longer than one hour, compared to only 17 percent of other Americans. Cancer survivors were also more likely to wear long-sleeved shirts (12 percent) or a hat (31 percent) than those who had never received a cancer diagnosis.
What concerns researchers most about these results is that it suggests the difficulty will be high when trying to educate the public about the dangers of sun exposure. If skin cancer survivors fail to take precautions after a potentially deadly bout of the disease, how will health experts convince members of the public who haven’t received a diagnosis to take skin cancer as a serious threat?
To reduce your risks of developing skin cancer, you need to take basic precautions, while keeping in mind that UV radiation from the sun can affect you even on a cloudy day. As a general rule, the most hazardous time to receive UV light exposure is between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, in North America the UV exposure from sunlight is the greatest during late spring and early summer.
To protect yourself from UV rays, the CDC recommends you:
- Stay in the shade, especially during midday
- Wear clothing that covers any exposed skin
- Wear a wide brim hat that covers the neck, face, and ears
- Wear sunglasses that provide UV protection
- Always apply sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of over 30 when outside
- Never use indoor tanning beds
By heading this simple recommendations, you can substantially reduce your risk of developing melanoma or any other form of skin cancer.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Randy Morgan, a dentist in Newberg, Oregon.