As summer quickly approaches, students are taking advantage of the warm weather. But before enjoying the spring weather, it’s important to take the proper steps to protect yourself from the very thing that makes the weather nice: the sun.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Every year over a million cases are diagnosed.
The risk of developing skin cancer increases after one sunburn, and most people have been burned before the age of five.
Nursing Instructor Stephanie Burgess, MSN RN was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma skin cancer for the first time six years ago from years of unprotected sun exposure and yearly trips to the beach.
“I noticed a spot on my upper chest and it was a spot that really never went away,” Burgess said. “I didn’t know what it was at first. I have fair skin and freckles and it just basically blended in with my skin. [I] didn’t really get to think about it much until…it started itching and it seemed like it was getting larger. And one of the things they [doctors] say is that your skin cancer will itch. So that’s when I showed it to my medical physician.”
Burgess’s doctor confirmed that it was skin cancer and sent her to a dermatologist to have a body scan to see if she had any more cancerous spots. Her body scan found six cancerous spots that were removed via six in-office surgeries.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It is treatable, but can result in disfiguration from its removal.
“Skin cancer develops on areas exposed to a lot of sun, such as the face, ears, neck, shoulders, and back.
You don’t realize the damage you are doing [when you are] young,” Burgess said.
There are multiple risk factors for developing skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, these include sunburns, use of indoor tanning beds, family history of skin cancer, and weakened immune systems.
While some risk factors are not controllable, skin damage from unprotected sun exposure and tanning beds can be.
Associate professor of nursing Beth McVan said, “Sun booths and tanning beds are a no, no, no.”
An article published in BMJ in October 2012 said that the use of indoor tanning beds increases the risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer.
Tanning beds also cause significantly more skin damage than the sun.
According to Alere, “One burn in a tanning bed equals 10 to 12 sunburns.”
The risk of developing skin cancer can be significantly decreased by taking the proper preventative steps.
Burgess said students should wear broad spectrum sunscreen and sunglasses to protect themselves from sun related skin damage, especially on their face around the eyes.
“Anytime you are in the sun, wear sunscreen. I would also say if there are any spots on your skin that just seem to be different and never go away to definitely have them examined by your physician,” Burgess said.
Burgess and McVan both said it is important to wear sunscreen even in the winter to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. Damage from the sun and tanning bed is irreversible.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Regular use of tanning beds can triple and in some cases quadruple tanners’ risk of melanoma according to Alere.
The different types of skin cancer—actinic keratosis, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma—vary in severity.
“Melanoma is by far the worst kind you can get,” McVan said.
Spring and summer are great times of year to take advantage of the warmer weather and enjoy the great outdoors. But before stepping outside, remember to apply sunscreen and take care of your skin.