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Preventing Skin Cancer

Spring is here and that means sun.  Who doesn't like the feeling of sun shining down on a warm day, especially after a gloomy, cold winter.  But skin cancer incidence is rising worldwide and we must protect from too much sun exposure.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.  We break skin cancer into two major types; melanoma and non-melanoma.  Melanoma is the least common (2%) but is responsible for the most skin cancer deaths (80%).  The non-melanoma cancers are squamous cell and basal cell and it is rare for them to cause death.  All of these types are linked to sun exposure.  Here is what the evidence shows for skin cancers:

1. Sun Exposure: All skin cancers are linked to increased total and recreational sun exposure.  The more sun exposure, the more risk.  Avoiding midday exposure when the sun is strongest, especially in children, is advised but there are no studies that look at this exposure by itself.

2. Indoor Tanning: Evidence shows indoor tanning is associated with increased melanoma, squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma.

3. Sunscreen Use: The risk of melanoma and non-melanoma cancers are lessened in people who routinely use sunscreen compared to those who do not.  The minimum age for sunscreen use is 6 months. Babies younger than 6 months need clothing protection and hats/shade.

Other studies show the benefit of educational programs to ensure people use hats and shirts as sun protection.

4. SPF in Sunscreens:  The Sun Protection Factor shows the amount of time one can be in the sun without burning from UBV rays.    Higher SPF provides slightly more protection but an SPF of 45 gives about 98% protection so going higher than that is not needed.  It's more important to apply the sunscreen more often as it diminishes with sweat, water and time.

Enjoy the sun with a wide brimmed hat, sunscreen and the shade between 2-4 PM. 


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