Did you know that skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada, yet it is also one of the most preventable. About 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada each year, more than 6,000 of which are melanoma, the mostly deadly form of skin cancer.
However, there are ways to protect yourself “The most effective way to lower the risk of developing skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR),” says Dr. Janice Giesbrecht, Niagara Health System’s Director of Medical Oncology. “You can enjoy yourself outside as long as you protect yourself from the sun. And it’s important to protect against UV rays throughout the year, not just in the summer.”
Being properly informed is also important so we thought it important to take a look at some VERY COMMON myths around tanning that are completely false:
TOP MYTHS ABOUT TANNING
Myth: “A base tan protects you.”
When your cells are exposed to UV light, they produce more melanin, the pigment that colors your skin, which is why you tan. But this is a sign that damage has already been done, not protection against future sun exposure. In fact, a “base tan” provides the SPF equivalent of about a 4, says Steve Rotter, MD, a dermatologic surgeon in Virginia. (As a comparison, a white T-shirt gives you more coverage—about an SPF 7).
Myth: “80 percent of sun damage occurs before age 18, so the injury is already done.”
While it’s true that melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is more closely linked to childhood sunburns, “it’s cumulative sun exposure that’s associated with other skin cancers, not to mention wrinkles, thinning skin, dark spots, and ‘broken’ capillary veins on the skin,” says Jessica Wu, MD, Los Angeles dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC School of Medicine.
Myth: “I have dark skin, so I don’t need to worry.”
“Unfortunately, skin cancer is frequently diagnosed later in people of color—perhaps because of the misconception that they are not at risk—so it’s often progressed to a later stage and is more difficult to treat,” says Wu. Singer Bob Marley, for example, died of melanoma on his toe that was misdiagnosed as a soccer injury.
Furthermore, skin color isn’t as simple as it sounds, because people are more heterogeneous than you think, explains Hirsch. So even if you have a dark complexion, you could have genes that make you more susceptible to skin cancer.
Myth: “As long as I protect my face, it’s OK.”
“Sun is the greatest threat to your skin’s health and youth,” Rotter agrees.
Myth: “Anything above SPF 15 is a waste.”
Myth: “But I need sun to get enough vitamin D.”
“You can get enough vitamin D from a mix of diet, supplements, and incidental sun exposure,” says Klein.
Myth: “I don’t need sunscreen if it’s not ‘peak tanning hours.’”
And Day says that she often sees the worst sunburns on cloudy days. “Clouds block infrared rays, so you don’t feel hot, but they only block 20 percent of UV rays so you can still get burned,” she says, noting that people often spend more time outdoors and skip sunscreen on cloudier days, which makes matters worse.
Myth: “Skin cancer isn’t that big a deal.”
“I have several patients who have had skin cancers and have expressed that exact sentiment to me,” says Wu. “While non-melanoma skin cancer typically doesn’t travel throughout the body, it’s still cancer and will continue to destroy your skin and invade the tissues if it’s not removed. I tell them about the patient who had a basal cell skin cancer on her eyelid that invaded her eye and she ended up losing her eye. I’ve also had patients who have lost their noses and ears due to skin cancer. Some people still don’t believe me, so I show them the photos.”
And now, Here are some tips from the Canadian Cancer Society to protect yourself in the sun:
- Check the UV index before going outside. When the UV index is 3 (moderate) or higher, wear protective clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Try to reduce sun exposure between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest, or any time of the day when the UV index is 3 or more.
- If possible, plan outdoor activities before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m. If you are concerned about sun protection before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m., check the UV index for your city that day to see what times it is expected to be over 3.
- Be aware that exposure to UVR can occur through glass. Glass windows can filter ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, but ultraviolet A (UVA) rays can pass through ordinary untinted glass (such as a car windshield).
- Seek shade or create your own shade when outside, especially between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Be prepared to make your own shade by taking along an umbrella. Trees and hedges can provide excellent shade. How much shade will depend on the density and the type of plant.
- Cover your arms and legs. Wear loose-fitting and tightly woven clothing that protects exposed skin from the sun, such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and long skirts.
SOURCE: Niagara Health System, Rd.com, Cancer.ca
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