Have you ever went outside for too long in the summertime and got sunburned? The United States Department of Health & Human Services said “more than 1 out of every 3 Americans reports getting sunburned each year” so you’re not alone. Being exposed to the sun for too long, over many times, can lead to your skin becoming too burned which leads to skin cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), they reported that “skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States”. There are many ways to prevent skin cancer, but let’s first understand what exactly is skin cancer.
What is skin cancer
The Skin Cancer Foundation defines skin cancer as “the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations. These mutations lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors”. Your skin becomes damaged when it has been exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays that come from the sun or tanning beds. Ultraviolet radiation caused by the sun can be more intense depending on the season, altitude, and time of day. Ultraviolet rays are typically more intense during the summer months and the higher you are off the ground, the faster the sun’s rays will reach your skin. In both cases, UV rays are most intense between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, but this time window can vary. We can even be more specific here that there are three types of UV radiation. For the purpose of this article, we will be sticking with the type that causes sunburn called UVB.
There are many forms of skin cancer, but basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and Markel cell carcinoma are the most common skin cancer forms in the United States.
Four types of skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is defined by The Skin Cancer Foundation as “the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year. BCCs arise from abnormal, uncontrolled growth of basal cells”. You can usually see this type of cancer forming on your skin that is exposed to the sun the most, like your ears, neck, arms, legs, shoulders, and back. They look like small to medium-sized lumps (or pimples) with very noticeable discoloration. If left untreated, they can cause permeant damage to the area the cancer is occupying, and left for too long can cause death.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is defined by The Mayo Clinic as “a common form of skin cancer that develops in the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layers of the skin”. Just like basal cell carcinoma, this type of skin cancer is very common and is caused by repeated exposure to UV radiation. It can be found in the same places where pascal cell carcinoma can be found (like your arms, neck, or legs) and are very noticeable to see. Heavy discoloration along with it appearing in patches are common signs of this type of skin cancer. It is very treatable, but very destructive to the skin (and can spread too) if left untreated.
Melanoma is the most dangerous of the four types of skin cancers listed in this article. The American Cancer Society explained that melanoma “is a type of skin cancer that develops when melanocytes (the cells that give the skin its tan or brown color) start to grow out of control”. Usually resembling a mole, they can easily be mistaken for one on your body. A long session of being exposed to very intense ultraviolet radiation will cause melanoma to form on parts of your body that are most exposed to sunlight or a tanning bed.
Merkel cell carcinoma, as defined by The Mayo Clinic, is “a rare type of skin cancer that usually appears as a flesh-colored or blueish-red nodule, often on your face, head or neck. Merkel cell carcinoma is also called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin”. Forming as lesions or nodes on commonly affected sunburnt skin can be very noticeable, but painless. Normally, older people (over the age of 50) can be a target for this type of skin cancer that is also brought on by the Merkel cell polyomavirus. This is an extremely fast-spreading and aggressive cancer, so early detection is needed to fully recover.
Being tan is most people’s favorite thing about the summer, and although it may look good on social media posts, being tan will cause damage to the skin and if done consistently enough without protection may lead to skin cancer. Let’s explore some ways to protect yourself from getting one of these forms of skin cancer.
Tips to stay safe in the sun
Below you will find several steps on how to ensure you can enjoy your time in the sun, but do not cause damage to your skin or cause damage to other parts of your body due to the sun.
- Limit time in the sun
- Try to limit exposure to the sun by doing outdoor activities early in the morning or late afternoon. If you are caught outside, try to find shady areas where you can be protected. Umbrellas aren’t just useful during rainy days, they can also protect us from the sun on sunny days at the beach.
- Sunglasses with polarized lenses help protect your eyes from the UV rays that can cause cataracts and other eye problems. They can also be very fashionable.
- Protective Clothing
- During the sunny days, wear long-sleeved shirts and hats that cover your face and your neck. Many times people wear hats such as baseball caps that protect your face but do not protect your ears or your neck. Look up hats such as bucket hats for other kinds of headwear protection.
- Make sure to put sunscreen on every part of your body that may be exposed to the sun before going outside. Sunscreen should be reapplied several times throughout the day about every two hours. If you are sweating, in the pool, or on the beach, you may have to reapply more frequently.
- Stay Hydrated
- It is vital to ensure you are staying hydrated when out in the sun all day. Although staying hydrated may not protect your skin the same way as the other tips on this list from the sun’s UV rays, it will protect you from heatstroke and many of your internal organs from shutting down in the heat.
These tips will not guarantee your safety in the sun, but it is a healthy start to taking care of not only your skin but other parts of your body as well. The summertime is a time of year to take advantage of the beautiful weather (especially in the mid-Hudson Valley), but do not forget about the kids. Kids will go outside without a second thought without any of these protections. It is important to make sure you not only take care of and protect yourself but your kids as well.
Cross Valley Health & Medicine is a primary care practice located in Newburgh, NY, allowing for both virtual and in-person appointments. The practice has two medical providers on staff, a medical doctor who is dual board-certified in Addiction Medicine and Internal Medicine and a family nurse practitioner. Both providers are eager to see new patients for the following programs: Addiction Medicine, Behavioral Health Management, HIV/AIDS Care Management, Internal Medicine, Medical Marijuana Certifications, Medication-Assisted Treatment, STDI/STI Care Management, and Weight Loss Management. If you are interested in becoming a patient of Cross Valley, please click here to access our online paperwork portal.