Nothing is more tempting than to enjoy a sunny summer day, but do it wisely.
Blue skies, sparkling water, shining sand, a summer breeze.
They are all calling to you.
“Come. Have fun in the sun.”
We grew up learning that sunshine is good for us. Our bodies need natural sunlight to synthesize adequate amounts of vitamin D in order to keep our bones strong and healthy, as well as to support the immune system. Just remember that you can definitely get too much of a good thing. It’s been estimated about 10 minutes a day (with no sunscreen) is all most of us might need for adequate amounts of vitamin D and the fairer your skin the less direct exposure is needed or wise. For people with very fair skin, just a short burst of sunshine on their skin might be enough. There are also lots of great sources of vitamin D in our food or in our daily multivitamins.
On the other side of the equation, sun damaged skin is serious business. Over exposure to the sun decreases our skin elastically, makes us look older, increases the likelihood of lines and wrinkles and worst of all can lead to serious and sometimes deadly skin cancers.
The American Cancer Society reports that “Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. It accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. More than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed in this country each year. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for more than 76,600 cases ( and more than 9,000 deaths) in 2013.” All in all , management of skin cancer, a preventable disease, costs more than 5% of the total U.S. healthcare dollar!
With an average of over 300 days of sunshine a year, Arizona has skin cancer rates that are 4-7 times higher than those in the Upper Midwest and Northeast parts of the U.S. and only second in the world to Queensland, Australia. For this reason, Arizona also is home to some of the world’s leading skin cancer experts.
Teams at TGEN, the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, are focused on three key challenges, 1) identifying the genetic changes associated with an individual's risk of developing melanoma, which could lead to a way to develop new tests for people with an elevated risk of getting this cancer; 2) identifying genetic changes in early-stage melanoma as a way to identify new targets for chemo-prevention - in other words, identifying drugs that may actually prevent the disease from starting.; and 3) focusing on the worst stage of melanoma (metastatic spread beyond the skin) to identify new approaches to find an "Achilles' heel" for treatment. You can learn more about TGen’s work and what the teams are working on here.
'The best cure is prevention. If you can prevent it, you never have to treat it,' shares Dr. David Alberts, Co Director of The Skin Cancer Institute within The University of Arizona Cancer Center ( UACC ) in Tucson.
For decades, Dr. Alberts and his team at UACC’s Skin Cancer Institute have worked with the National Institutes of Health on both skin cancer treatment and more importantly skin cancer prevention strategies through public education and research into better ways to keep our skin healthy and live sun safe. These efforts have led to the development of novel sun protective pharmaceuticals, including a skin normalizing and thickening, topically applied drug, MRYRISTYL NICOTINATE (Niadyne, Tucson ) , and a natural tanning drug, AFELOMELANOTIDE (Clinuvel, Melbourne, Australia ).
We can all be proactive by taking care of our skin and living sun smart with these 5 tips:
1. Let your shadow be your guide. If your shadow is shorter then you are… seek shade or layer on protections. A short shadow means the sun is at its strongest.
2. The American Cancer Society has an easy to remember how to be sun smart: Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap! Just slip on something comfortable that covers you up, slop on UVA and UVB protective sunscreen of at least SPF 30. The children's versions are great as they often have less additives. Do this EVERY day and more often when you are out in the sun for more than an hour or two. That's not all. Slap on that sun hat and wrap your eyes in a good pair of sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB absorption. Your skin is not the only part of you that can get sun damaged.
3. Cloud cover does not provide UV protection. Damaging UV rays travel through clouds. You may feel cooler, but you still need to be sun smart even when the sky is not blue.
4. Look at yourself! When you are doing that monthly self-breast exam, look in a full length mirror. We all have moles or freckles. Some of us have more or less than others. What you are looking for is something different. Remember the old Sesame Street song… One of these things is not like the other? That’s what you are looking for. It is important for everyone to know the ABCDs of Melanoma Early Detection: Asymmetrical; Borders ( irregular ); Colors ( variegated ); and Diameter ( exceeds 6 mm and is enlarging ).
5. Talk to your doctor. Everyone should have a family member or friend do a monthly full body viewing for the ABCDs of Melanoma Detection. If something does not look right or feel right, pick up the phone and call your doctor. Don’t wait for your annual wellness visit. Early detection saves lives and even if it is nothing this time, it’s better to be safe than very sorry.
Remember, Skin Cancer is a PREVENTABLE DISEASE!
Want to learn more?
American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/sunanduvexposure/skin-cancer-facts
Get the Facts on Vitamin D at MAYO Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-d/NS_patient-vitamind
Skin Cancer Institute at The Arizona Cancer Center: http://azcc.arizona.edu/sci