July is UV Safety Month, and although there are physical and emotional benefits to direct sun exposure, over exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can be damaging and deadly. Vermont skin cancer incidence rates are among the highest in the country, and while most skin cancers are highly curable, an estimated 12,190 deaths will occur in the U.S. in 2012. The American Cancer Society offers guidelines for skin cancer prevention so outdoor summer activity can be enjoyed safely.
Skin cancer is by far the most common of all cancer types. More than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States. That’s more than all other cancers combined. The two main types of skin cancers are basal and squamous cell skin cancers and melanomas, much less common than other skin cancers, but often far more serious.
UV rays – from the sun and other sources like tanning lamps and beds – are the primary cause of skin cancer. UVA rays cause cells to age and can cause some damage to cells’ DNA. They are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles and are thought to play a role in some skin cancers. UVB rays can cause direct damage to the DNA and are the main rays that cause sunburns. They are more dangerous and thought to cause most skin cancers. Fortunately, you can protect yourself and your family from skin cancer.
Some people think about sun protection only when they spend a day at the lake, beach, or pool. But sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens every time you are in the sun. “Slip! Slop! Slap! … and Wrap” is a catch phrase that can help you remember the four key steps you can take to protect yourself from UV rays:
• Slip on a shirt.
• Slop on sunscreen.
• Slap on a hat.
• Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them.
These steps complement each other and they provide the best protection when used together. Another effective sun-safe behavior is to avoid the sun at peak hours between 10 am and 4 pm.
Vermont passed legislation earlier this year to prohibit children under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning beds which increase exposure to deadly and damaging UV radiation. The risk of developing melanoma is increased by 75 percent for those who begin tanning before the age of 30.
“We know Vermonters enjoy the sunny days of summer,” said Kelly Stoddard, vice president for Health and Advocacy Initiatives with the American Cancer Society, “so the American Cancer Society strives to promote safe-sun practices to eliminate the risk of sun damage and skin cancer and help save lives.”
For more information about skin cancer, its risk factors, prevention and treatment, call your American Cancer Society at 1(800) 227-2345, all day every day, or visit www.cancer.org.