House Call: Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 5:35 PM EDT
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Every year we expose ourselves to the sun’s ultraviolet light, often without taking any necessary precautions.  Joining us tonight for our special series on Skin Cancer Awareness Month is a Megan Westfall, nurse navigator and certified oncology nurse at the Cecil B. Highland, Jr. & Barbara B. Highland Cancer Center at United Hospital Center.

1). So, what are common mistakes or myths when it comes to spending time in the sun?

· People use too little sunscreen—you should apply liberally and use at least one ounce or a shot glass size full for one application for the average sized person.

· People use a sunscreen with a low SPF number—you should use at least an SPF of 15, although an SPF of 30 is recommended.

· People use sunscreen once for all day sun protection—you should follow the directions on your sunscreen bottle for the time recommended between applications.

· People receive the most sun exposure between 11 am – 3 pm—you should actually limit your sun exposure during this time of day as the sun’s rays tend to be more intense.

· People think because it is cloudy, they do not receive any harmful rays—you should be even more mindful on cloudy days as the sun’s rays are just as dangerous.

· People think a tan make us look healthy—you should know that a tan comes from the cells of skin damage.

· People want to wear too little clothing when in the sun.  Actually, clothing choices play an important role in protecting our skin as it acts as a sunscreen.  A long sleeved shirt and brimmed hat may be helpful to protect exposed skin during peak sun hours.  However, sunscreen is necessary, even with the right clothing choices in keeping your skin healthy during all seasons, especially from the intense rays of the summer sun.

2). Who should be wearing sunscreen?

People of all skin colors can get skin cancer from the sun’s UV rays. Some medications can make the skin more prone to sunburns. Ask your healthcare professional if your medications or anything specific to you, puts you at greater risk for sunburn or skin damage. Children need extra attention to avoid sunburns, as this can increase the risk of skin cancer in later years. Those who are most likely to get skin cancer from these rays have:

• Lighter natural skin color.

• Skin that burns, freckles, gets red easily, or becomes painful from the sun.

• Blond or red hair.

• Blue or green eyes.

• A family member who has had skin cancer.

Also, people who spend a lot of time outdoors, either for work or play, are more likely to get skin cancer from UV rays.

“Each year more people continue to experience sunburn without realizing the severity of the injury,” said Dr. Malone.  “Sunburn damages the cells and layers of the skin which can speed up the aging process as well as increase the risk for skin cancer.”

Annually, there are 5.4 million cases of skin cancer treated in the United States. This is a statistic that could be lowered significantly if we all followed some basic skin safety.

3). Which sunscreen should I use?

Rachel, you will want to use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor, commonly referred to as SPF, of at least 15 or higher. Sunscreens come in many forms, including ointments, creams, gels, lotions, wax sticks, and sprays. Follow the directions on the package for using a sunscreen product on babies less than six months old. All products do not have the same ingredients; if you or your child’s skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or call your doctor

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