It’s getting warmer outside! With the summer season fast approaching, many of us find ourselves spending a lot more time outside. Whether you’re biking to work, going on a hike, relaxing at the beach, or simply enjoying nature, outdoor activities are taking hold. While it is important to keep active and take advantage of the beautiful weather, we should not forget to stay safe under the sun and mitigate the risk of skin cancer.
SKIN CANCER: THE BASICS.
There are three main types of skin cancer. Basal cell cancers, squamous cell cancers, and melanoma.
- Basal cell carcinoma: Malignant tumour in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (skin). This is the most common form of skin cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Malignant tumour in the outer squamous cell layer of the epidermis (skin).
- Melanoma: Malignant tumour originating in the melanocytes (melanin-forming cells) of the epidermis (skin). While less common than squamous and basal cell carcinomas, it is the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas do not typically spread to elsewhere in the body, and are thus treated more easily. Melanoma, on the other hand, is difficult to treat once it has started to spread.
For more information on the forms of skin cancer, see:
- https://survivornet.ca/cancer-type/skin-cancer-non-melanoma/ (Skin Cancer Non-Melanoma)
- https://survivornet.ca/cancer-type/skin-cancer-melanoma/ (Skin Cancer Melanoma)
The cause: Most skin cancers stem from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In fact, up to 90% of all melanoma cases in North America are caused by UV rays. UV radiation primarily comes from sun exposure, but can also be emitted from man-made sources such as tanning beds. Ultraviolent A (UVA) (long-wave) radiation penetrates deep into the skin and results in signs of aging, and ultraviolent B (UVB) (short-wave) is more intense and responsible for sunburns. Both of these wavelength ranges are said to damage the skin’s DNA, thereby contributing to cancer development.
Thankfully, there are ways through which we can protect ourselves from sun exposure and UV radiation. While these prevention methods are not foolproof, they do reduce your risk for skin cancers.
6 SUN SAFETY TIPS.
Apply (and reapply) sunscreen.
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from the sun is to apply sunscreen. We hear it often enough, but the advice is often ignored or forgotten for the sake of convenience. Sunscreens help to block UV rays from reaching our skin.
SPF: The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures the effectiveness of sunscreen; it dictates how much longer you can be in the sun without getting burned, compared to if you were not wearing sunscreen. SPF solely protects against UVB, the component of ultraviolet radiation responsible for burns. If a sunscreen has an SPF of 35, it means that you can stay in the sun 35 times longer than if you were not wearing sunscreen, without getting burned. The Government of Canada suggests using sunscreens of at least SPF 30.
Broad-spectrum: It is essential that your sunscreen of choice is broad-spectrum. Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
Re-application: The Government of Canada suggests that sunscreen be reapplied every 2 hours. Do not forget to reapply often, especially if your activities involve getting wet or sweating. From a beach day, to a rigorous hike, bring a tube of sunscreen along!
The bottom line: Remember to choose a sunscreen that is SPF 30+ (to protect against UVB), broad-spectrum (to protect against UVA), and waterproof (for longevity). Do not forget to reapply, especially if outside for extended periods. For added protection, choose lip balm and other cosmetic products that include SPF.
Another way you can protect yourself from the sun is by covering up. This means minimizing exposed skin by wearing light-coloured pants, long-sleeved tops, and wide-brimmed hats. You should choose tightly woven fabrics for maximum protection. It is also essential to cover your eyes by wearing sunglasses. Sunglasses do not have to expensive to function properly, simply ensure that they are labeled as having both UVA and UVB protection.
Avoid peak sun times.
Peak sun times are from 11 am – 3 pm. This is when the sun’s rays are the most harmful. Whether it be keeping in the shade, or staying indoors, it is important to be mindful of this fact and adjust your excursions and activities accordingly.
It is easy to enjoy the outdoors without being in direct sunlight. Choose a picnic spot under a tree, a shaded bike trail, or bring an umbrella along to the beach. The shaded option is preferable, especially within the peak sun hours!
Do not actively tan.
Tanning is a sign that your skin has been damaged by UV radiation. Actively tanning, whether it be artificially (tanning beds), or naturally, is detrimental. It exposes your skin to the harms of UV radiation, thereby increasing your risk of skin cancer.
Check for moles.
While moles are common, atypicial moles are a sign of a cancerous growth. Check often for atypical moles. An atypical mole is characterized as follows (ABCDE rule):
A: Asymmetry – The mole is not uniformly symmetric, it is shaped differently on different sides.
B: Border – The mole’s border is uneven.
C: Colour – The colour is not uniform, it has various tinges.
D: Diameter – The mole is larger than 6 mm in diameter.
E: Evolving – The mole changes in size, shape, feel, or colour. The mole may itch or tingle.
Skin cancer is often deemed as one of the most preventable forms of cancer. It is important to remain aware, and protect yourself from harmful sun exposure while enjoying the outdoors.
*Note that sun safety is not only important during the summer months. While we tend to be outside more in the summer, UV radiation occurs year round.