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Sun and skin cancer: Separating fact from fiction

This article is Sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Year-round warmth and sunshine make Arizona ideal for spring training, golf and all types of other outdoor activities. But all that glorious sunshine may also increase the risk for skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, reports the American Cancer Society. About 3.5 million cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and there are about 13,000 skin cancer deaths annually most of which are attributable to melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

“The number of new cases of melanoma in the United States has doubled in the last 20 years,” says Dr. Walter Quan Jr., chief of medical oncology at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® in Goodyear, Arizona. He explains the number of individuals who die from melanoma has remained fairly constant over that time.

“It’s that people are getting more sun exposure and more intense exposure — and not just on the beach,” he said. “It’s happening at sporting events, while gardening and cutting the grass and even while driving or riding in a car.”

Here are some common myths and facts about sun exposure and skin cancer.cancer-treatment-centers-of-america (1)

Myths:

A base tan protects your skin

“The bottom line is that tanning is a bad thing for your skin,” says Dr. Quan. Tan skin is damaged skin. “When your tan fades, it’s your body trying to repair the radiation damage from the sun. Unfortunately, skin doesn’t forget that exposure — a fact that you can clearly see on men and women who spent a lot of time in the sun when they were younger.”

Dark-skinned people don’t get skin cancer

While people of color are less likely to develop skin cancer, they have a higher risk of dying from it. According to skincancer.org, a very dangerous and fast-spreading skin cancer known as acral lentiginous melanoma is more common among darker-skinned people and may appear as a suspicious growth in the mucous membranes, under the nails, or on the palms or soles of the feet.

All sunscreens are the same

The more common chemical sunscreens absorb and scatter sun rays. Physical sunscreens block rays with either zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Whichever you choose, cancercenter.com advises using a sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher and to reapply often for optimum protection. You should apply sunscreen to exposed skin anytime you are outdoors, no matter the temperature or weather. When swimming or playing in the water, make sure and use water-resistant sunscreen.

Facts:

  • If you’ve had severe sunburns in the past, you have a greater risk of developing skin cancer, reports the American Cancer Society.
  • People with blue or green eyes and blond or red hair are more likely to develop skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Exposure to large amounts of coal tar, paraffin, arsenic compounds or certain types of oil boosts your risk of skin cancer.
  • A family history of skin cancer increases an individuals risk.
  • Up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate through clouds and fog, so you can get sun damage even on cloudy days.
  • Indoor tanners have a higher risk of all forms of skin cancer, according to skincancer.org. Frequent tanning bed users receive as much as 12 times more UV exposure than they get from the sun.
  • People with large numbers of moles and specific types of moles are more susceptible, reports the CDC.
  • Five minutes of sun exposure produces sufficient Vitamin D for daily adult needs. Too much sun actually breaks down Vitamin D.

Dr. Quan advises you to watch for moles or marks that change in size, color or elevation. Contact a doctor immediately if you notice those changes. Regular screening by a physician can also help identify melanoma at an early stage when treatment is most effective.

Sunshine is great when watching a baseball game or playing a round of golf, but protection against that sunshine is critical. Knowing the facts and myths about the sun and sunscreen may save a life.

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