Skin Cancer Risks Don’t Wane With Summer Sun

The summer and hours of daylight may be decreasing, but not the risks of developing skin cancer – especially for summer enthusiasts.

Spending four-plus hours in the sun’s rays puts golfers and beach goers at risk for skin cancer and there are steps that will help reduce the risk, says Spectrum Health dermatologist Daniel Dapprich, M.D.

It’s as simple as a hat and sunscreen.

“Your risk depends on the areas exposed and the duration of your exposure and the time of day of the exposure,” Dapprich says.

Most of the more than 1 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer diagnosed yearly in the United States are considered to be sun-related. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for about 62,190 cases of skin cancer in 2006 and most (about 7,910) of the 10,710 deaths due to skin cancer each year.

For golfers, the areas at risk are the head, arms, legs and the top of the chest, where a man’s shirt may be unbuttoned or a women’s shirt may leave that area exposed.

“That’s an area people almost never cover with sunscreen because they don’t think about it,” says Dapprich who also is a Mayo Clinic-trained dermatologist and dermopathologist at Dermatology Associates of West Michigan.

Among men and women, skin cancer rates vary. One reason, says Dapprich, is that women usually have more hair not only on top of the head, but also covering their ears. “A common area for skin cancer in men, particularly in golfers, farmers or fishermen, is on top of and behind the ear because it is an area that is really neglected.”

The most common forms of skin cancer, in descending order, are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, which is the least common but most serious type of skin cancer. Dapprich says cases of melanoma are increasing at a higher rate than almost all other types of cancer. Half of basal cell carcinomas that are detected are in the head, and while they are malignant tumors they do not spread and are not life-threatening. However, Dapprich says they are difficult to treat and can lead to extensive scarring while being treated.

Skin cancer is often the result of years of sun exposure, and the cases he is seeing in his office now are the result of exposure from many years ago.

“There’s a lag time between the time you have your sun exposure and the time you get skin cancer. The skin cancers we’re seeing in 50-year-olds are probably largely related to sun exposure they had years ago, when they weren’t as careful. We know much more now about how to prevent this cancer but I’m concerned parents may not stress protection enough with their children.”

Effective sun protection is practiced by less than one-third of U.S. youth. In a recent survey by the American Cancer Society of youth aged 11-18 years, routinely practiced sun-protection behaviors among young people on sunny days were wearing sunglasses (32%) or long pants (21%), staying in the shade (22%), and applying sunscreen (31%). Fifty-eight percent of those using sunscreen, used sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more when at the beach or pool.

People outdoors in summer shouldn’t be fooled by cloudy weather, Dapprich warns.

“When it’s foggy out or overcast, people don’t think that they’re going to get sunburn so they don’t put their sunscreen on because it tends to be cooler and people tend to associate whether they’re going to get sunburn with heat. Heat is infrared radiation, whereas ultraviolet light tends to go through fog.’It doesn’t have to be sunny to get sunburn.”

The American Cancer Society is promoting a program that makes it easy to remember how to protect yourself from the sun. Slip! Slop! Slap!’, the Society’s awareness campaign, is designed to let adults and kids know how easy it is to protect themselves while in the sun. Slip! Slop! Slap! is a quick way to remember the most important sun protective behaviors:’

  • Slip!‘Slip on a shirt. Wear protective clothing when out in the sun. Choose clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you can’t see through.’
  • Slop!‘Slop on sunscreen. Wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher on any exposed skin. Apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going outdoors, and be sure to reapply as necessary, especially after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
  • Slap!‘Slap on a hat. Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades the face, neck and ears.

Also be sure to protect your eyes and the surrounding skin with sunglasses. Wear 99-100 percent UV absorption sunglasses to protect the eyes.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and 585,000-member health plan, Priority Health.’Spectrum Health’s 13,000 employees, 1,400 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need.’The organization provided more than $100 million in community benefit during its 2006 fiscal year. Spectrum Health has earned more than 50 national awards during the past 10 years.