Sunburns are thought to increase your risk of skin cancer, but any prolonged exposure to UV light can raise skin cancer risk, even without a sunburn! Take precautions this Summer to reduce your risk of skin cancer while still enjoying the outdoors.
What is skin cancer?
Cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin and there are several types. Melanoma is a skin cancer formed in the tissue cells that make pigment, Melanocytes; Basal Cell Carcinoma (the most common cancer) is a slow growing cancer that forms in the lower part of the outer layer of skin, the epidermis; Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the surface of the skin; and neuroendocrine carcinoma, which forms in the neuroendocrine cells which release hormones. The skin cancer disrupts the growth of other skin cells. Basal and squamous cell cancers, keratinocyte cancers, are most common and rarely spread to other areas of the body. However, if left untreated, large tissue damage can occur and even loss of function in some parts of the body. Melanoma is more likely to start in the chest, back, and/or legs. If addressed early, it is most often curable, but left in untreated, this can be deadly as it can spread to other parts of the body.
~There are more than 3.5 million skin cancer diagnoses a year and nearly 12,000 deaths due to skin cancer annually.~
Who is most prone to skin cancer?
- Have a family history
- Have freckles and burn before tanning
- Take oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
- Take tetracycline, sulfa, or fluoroquinolones, or other certain antibiotics
- Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, and/or blond, red, or light brown hair
- ...or live in tropical or subtropical climates...
What can you do to decrease your risk?
Use broad spectrum sunblock protection. Broad spectrum refers to the type of radiations, mainly UVA and UVB. Sunblock works to protect the skin from harmful these harmful UVA and UVB rays. Each sunblock has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating which can be used to estimate how long the sunblock will remain effective. This is determined by simply multiplying the time it would take the individual to burn without sunblock by the SPF rating. This will provide you with a reasonable estimation as to how long you are protected. The American Cancer Society, American Academy of Dermatology, and many other various experts recommend products with SPF 30+.
How does my sunscreen work?
There are two types of sunblock:
- Physical Sunblocks, which reflects the sun or scatters the UV radiation, preventing it from harming the skin; and,
- Chemical Sunblocks, which work to absorb the UV radiation energy and preventing it from harming the skin.
But I have sensitive skin!
Sensitive skin is certainly an issue with anything that will be applied topically. Most physical sunblocks are less irritating and broad spectrum, though the drawback is most are not clear, and are pasty white as they are physical sunblocks that are not absorbed into the skin.
Chemicals that are commonly irritating are Oxybenzone (can cause a photoallergenic reaction to those who are sensitive to it), Sulisobenzone, PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid). Also, some contain chemical fragrances, and as the FDA regulations on the labeling of these chemicals is limited to fragrance this can be less than helpful if you are allergic to specific chemicals. So in this instance, it may just be best to avoid fragrance altogether and look for "fragrance free".
The American Cancer Society recommends applying sunscreen generously. Ideally, 1 ounce or a palmful should be used to cover the arms, legs, neck, and face of an average adult. Reapplication every 2 hours or more is also recommended to assure you are being protected.
It is important to know that sunscreen is not 100% effective against all the harmful radiation from the sun. This is why you should remember also to wear a hat when possible; cover your eyes with protective sunglasses; and wear clothing to protect as much skin as possible.
Remember to take precautions, but also remember to enjoy the outdoors and have fun!
Also, CLICK HERE to navigate to the Official United States Environmental Protection Agency's UV Index. This tool is a great way to plan accordingly. Just type in the zip code or city you will be enjoying your outdoor activities at, and take a look at the UV Index and Forecast.
Jeremy KW Spiewak, Pharmacy Intern, CPhT, MA RPhT, BA Chemistry, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
American Cancer Society. (2011). Are Some People More Prone To Sun Damage? WEB. [accessed June 2012].
National Cancer Institute. (2012). Dictionary of Cancer Terms. WEB. [accessed June 2012].
University of California School of Medicine. (2012). Skin Cancer. WEB. [accessed June 2012].
University of California School of Medicine. (2012). Sun Block. WEB. [accessed June 2012].
Disclaimer: This article is intended for information and reference purposes only. This is not to replace the consultation of your Pharmacist or Physician. Before making ANY change in your drug therapy consult and seek your physician's approval. If you are experiencing a life threatening emergency Call 911 and seek Emergency Medical Services.