Summertime fun increases skin cancer risk

rpulley@lsjournal.comJuly 10, 2013 

  • 97 Percentage of ultraviolet rays that SPF 30 protects skin from harmful exposure.

Hot, sunny days can lead to nasty sunburns. And those are a long-term risk for skin cancer.

Nagendra Natarajan, oncologist at Saint Luke’s Cancer Institute and Saint Luke’s East Hospital, said that 95 percent of non-melanoma cancers are the result of exposure to ultraviolet rays, while ultraviolet rays cause 60-65 percent of melanoma. The radiation causes mutations in cells that become cancer.

“The good news, it’s preventable,” Natarajan said. “It’s important to have skin protection.”

Wearing long sleeves and long pants and hats prevent skin damage. Often people in summer months don’t want to wear that clothing, so using a sunscreen cream is important, Natarajan said.

Saint Luke’s East, in Lee’s Summit, is expanding facilities for cancer treatment and they will be opening in fall 2013 so that there will be full services for oncology on campus.

Natarjan said that the nation, as it’s aging, is seeing an increase of incidence in all kinds of cancers and some of could be prevented. Smoking and overexposure to the sun are two known risk factors that changes in lifestyle could easily end, he said.

Natarajan said when swimming use protective sunscreen creams of at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor) rating, which will stop penetration of 93 percent of the ultraviolet rays, while SPF 30 stops 97 percent.

Sun blocker should be applied generously to the skin on all areas exposed to the sun. Don’t miss behind the ears, backs and neck, and balding men need to apply it to their heads. Re-apply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours because sweating, and water will wear it off, he said.

Another wise precaution is to stay out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when ultraviolet rays are at their peak. Seek out shade.

Tanning, while some people believe is healthy and attractive, is risk factor, and tanning beds have been linked to increase of melanoma.

“Make sure you have adequate protection, if possible wear long sleeves,” Natarajan said.

Other important steps to keep in mind:

Avoid sunburns, especially those that blister, as they dramatically increase odds of getting skin cancer

People with light-colored skin are most vulnerable

A person with fair skin or moles should have regular exams by a dermatologist, once a year or every six months

Some warning signs include:

• Bleeding, changes of color or growth or alteration in a mole or lump

• A lump that is shiny, or red or a patch that is red, rough or scaly

• A patch that may be itchy or tender, but skin cancer is not usually painful

Natarajan said that once a warning sign is noticed getting a doctor’s evaluation soon is necessary.

“The longer you wait, the more the cancer can spread and treatment options won’t be most effective,” he said.

All skin cancers are curable, particularly if caught early; and some non-melanoma cancer in can be dealt with in a single-day of treatment.

Melanoma can be tougher to deal with.

“Melanoma is a different beast altogether, it can spread readily or come back, 5, 10 or 20 years later,” Natarajan said.

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