Every year in May, we recognize Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Protection Month. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves, particularly as we head into the summer months, about the serious health threat posed by exposure to the sun’s UV rays. And while the summer is the worst for sun exposure, it is important to remember that although the days may be longest and the sun the most intense during summer, the threat persists year-round, especially in a state like ours.
It may come as a surprise to some, but skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States with more than two million cases each year. Roughly 70,000 of those cases are caused by melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Of those 70,000 cases nationwide, Florida accounts for more than 5,000.
One of the most important things to remember is that because the damage from UV exposure is cumulative over the years, children and young adults are especially at risk. Without any warning signs, exposure early in life can result in skin cancer many years later. So whenever we take young people to the pool or to the beach, we should be sure to make sure they are sufficiently protected. Below are some helpful tips from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, which are good for individuals of all ages.
♦ Seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest. Even when it is cloudy out, UV rays can still reach the earth’s surface.
♦ Don’t get burned. Always use sunscreen when you are outside. Use at least SPF 30 sunscreen that is UVA and UVB blocking. Apply a palm full to your entire body 20 minutes before exposure, repeating every two hours. Do not forget to use SPF lip balm too — even your lips are sensitive to sun rays.
♦ When you are in the sun, protect your eyes with UV absorbent sunglasses, wear a wide brimmed hat and tightly woven clothing for maximum protection.
♦ Enjoy brief sun exposure of 15 minutes up to three days a week to your arms, face and hands. This produces much needed Vitamin D.
One of the most critical things we can do, aside from prevention, is to make sure that our healthcare professional gives us an annual skin examination. Doctors also recommend checking one’s own skin monthly. Keep an eye out for new moles or moles that have changed size, shape, or color. If you detect a change like that, please make sure you see your healthcare provider right away.
As residents of our beautiful Sunshine State, we are blessed with beautiful days throughout the year. We’re able to enjoy exercise outside and barbecues with our friends and neighbors throughout the winter and fall. But this blessing also makes our families more vulnerable to sun-related illnesses. The most important thing we can do, especially for our young people, is to be vigilant about preparation, prevention, and detection. So, for more information about skin cancer and prevention, please visit preventcancer.org.
Wendy Nugent is the wife of U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent and a Spring Hill resident.