Summertime. And the living is easy.
Most of us “of a certain age” recognize those lyrics from the 1935 hit song from the musical Porgy and Bess. And while life during summertime may indeed be laid-back and easy, for many of us “of a certain age,” the effects of too much fun in the sun can take its toll, prematurely aging our skin and causing permanent skin damage.
As we age, the chances of developing skin cancers of all types escalate, and I have definitely become more aware of this fact as I’ve gotten older.
The statistics are somewhat alarming. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, each year in the United States, more than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. Even more alarming, each year more skin cancer diagnoses are made than are the combined diagnoses of cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and colon.
And in an average lifetime, roughly one in five persons will develop some type of skin cancer.
Fortunately, most types of skin cancer are non-life threatening and can be treated successfully by one’s dermatologist.
But because about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun, it makes sense to try to avoid, or reduce, exposure as much as possible.
The risk of getting melanoma from UV rays is very high as well. While skin cancer counts for less than one percent of all skin cancer diagnoses, it counts for the majority of skin cancer deaths. An estimated 10,130 people will die of melanoma this year.
The good news, if there is any, is that those whose melanoma is caught early have a 98 percent chance of reaching the five-year survival rate. The rate falls to 63 percent when the disease reaches lymph nodes, and 17 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.
Those who have had more than five sunburns during their lifetimes have doubled their risks for developing melanoma.
So it’s prudent, I think, to take the American Cancer Society’s good advice when it comes to their “Slip! Slop! Slap!” campaign to prevent overexposure to harmful UV rays.
Basically, their idea is to remind children (and this certainly applies to adults as well) when they go out in the sun to “slip” on a shirt, “slop” on sunscreen, and “slap” on a hat.
Protection, including wearing protective clothing when in the sun, using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and avoiding the midday sun are useful tips.
The ACS also recommends that having an extra bottle of sunscreen in the car is a smart move.
In addition to protecting our skin from excessive sun damage, the ACS recommends that we all get into the habit of checking our skin regularly for changes that might indicate the emergence of skin cancers.
Spotting a possible melanoma can be as easy as remembering our “ABCDs.” The “A” stands for asymmetry as malignant melanomas are often asymmetrical in shape; “B” is for borders, as most have uneven or irregular borders; “C” is for color because many melanomas contain multiple hues, such as black, brown, blue, and tan; and “D” stands for diameter, referring to moles that are larger than a pencil eraser in diameter.
There are other warning signs as well, according to the ACS, including having a sore that doesn’t heal; the spread of pigment from the border to nearby skin; a change in skin sensation such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain; a change in the surface of a mole such as bleeding or oozing; and a mole that looks markedly different from other moles on your skin.
The best advice to protect our skin, says the ACS, is to wear sunscreen daily (SPF 15 or higher), wear protective clothing, avoid overexposure between 10 am and 4 pm during the summer months, and perform monthly skin self-exams, scheduling doctor’s appointments when changes to the skin are noticed.
It’s definitely possible to enjoy the easy living of summertime and to protect our skin as well. Enjoy your summer vacation!