Skin Cancer Prevention

If you live in Arizona you probably spend much of your time outdoors. With nearly 300 days of sunshine annually in this amazing state how could you not?

desert sun

There are several activities that Arizona residents participate in year-round that have them outside for several hours at a time. There is hiking, jogging and biking. People are always fishing or boating at the rivers and lakes. We have numerous golf courses, and you cannot forget swimming! Unfortunately if you do not take the proper precautions these fun activities can turn into a hazard for your health. Not only do you run a risk of overheating (for tips on avoiding heat related illnesses, read our blog on “Excessive Heat Warnings”), but you put yourself at risk of developing skin cancer.

Agricultural professionals and their families may spend more time in the sun than everyone else. When you spend most of your time outdoors it is highly important to be well educated as to how to properly protect your skin from the sun.

Skin Cancer Facts

With nearly 5 million people being treated for skin cancer each year, it is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  There are more new cases of skin cancer every year than breast, colon, lung and prostate combined.

  • According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. This occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by UV radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers genetic defects, or mutations, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
  • The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Both of these cancers are generally curable, but can be costly and disfiguring.
  • Melanoma is the third most common form of skin cancer, and is more dangerous causing the most skin cancer related deaths.
  • The Skin Cancer Foundation states that between 1992 and 2006 the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77%.
  • Between 3,900 and 8,800 people – about two percent – of squamous cell carcinoma patients died from the disease in the US in 2012.
  • There are as many as 3,000 deaths from advanced basal cell carcinomas annually in the US.
  • According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an estimated 73,870 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the US in 2015. An estimated 9,940 people will die from melanoma in 2015.
  • On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns. Half of all adults aged 18-29 report at least one sunburn in the past 12 months.

Skin Cancer Prevention

Since it began back in 1979 the Skin Cancer Foundation has recommended using a sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or higher daily as an important part of a sun protection regimen. However, sunscreen alone is not enough. They also offer these tips.

  • Between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM seek shade or remain indoors.
  • Avoid burning. Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent and the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.
  • High SPF is not enough, look for products that offer “broad spectrum” or “UVA/ UVB” protection, and make sure your sunscreen has one or more of these UVA-filtering ingredients: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, stabilized avobenzone, or ecamsule (a.k.a. MexorylTM).
  • You need to apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Even when it is cold or cloudy outside you need to wear sunscreen. Up to 40% of the sun’s UV radiation reaches the earth on a completely cloudy day. Not wearing sunblock on these days often leads to the most serious sunburns because people spend the whole day in the sun without any protection.
  • Cover up with clothing. Clothing is one of your best defenses from the sun, so try and make the most of it. Densely woven clothing in bright and/or dark colored fabrics offer your skin the best defense as less of the sun’s rays can break through. Blue jeans have a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of around 1700 whereas a white t-shirt has a UPF of around 5. The more skin you cover with clothing the better, so wearing long sleeves and pants is always a plus. (During an Arizona summer that gets really hot, so the proper application of sunscreen and re-application of sunscreen are very important.) Many sportsman shops sell clothing that are specially designed for spending long days in the sun that come with their own UPF label. Look for clothing with UPF labels of 30 or higher.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Sun exposure can cause serious conditions to your eyes from cataracts to melanomas of the eye or eyelid. Wraparound sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of the sun’s UV rays will effectively shield the eyes and surrounding skin to help prevent these conditions from occurring.
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat. A hat with a brim of three inches or greater offer better protection of your face and the back of your neck. It also protects your ears and scalp which are often over looked.
  • Watch for the UV index when planning outdoor activities to prevent overexposure to the sun.

Skin Cancer Detection

When found early enough, skin cancer is highly curable. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that everyone practice a monthly head-to-toe examination of their skin to spot any new or changing lesions that may be precancerous or cancerous.

In order to have a successful self-exam you need to know what you are looking for. Take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing moles or growths that begin to change or grow significantly. A lesion that bleeds, itches, changes, or doesn’t heal is an alarm signal.

Physicians have developed the ABCDE’s  to help you recognize the disease during your self-exam.

  • The ABCDE’s
  • Asymmetry A benign mole will be symmetrical, an asymmetric mole could be malignant.
  • Border The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched. In a benign mole the borders are smooth.
  • Color Benign moles will be one color, often a single shade of brown. Having multiple colors in one mole is a warning sign.
  • Diameter A benign mole is usually smaller in diameter. Malignant marks are typically larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil.
  • Evolving Benign moles look the same over time. If a mole starts to evolve or change in any way you need to see a doctor. Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.

If you are concerned or in doubt it is best to see a physician. It is better to be safe than sorry. For more detailed information on skin cancer detection, and even images of what you should be looking for, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation webpage. It is recommended that you see a physician every year for a professional skin exam.


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