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Posted on: June 20, 2017

Prevent Skin Cancer: Protect Yourself in the Sun

MAYVILLE, N.Y.: – “I am a skin cancer survivor,” said Christine Schuyler, Chautauqua County Director of Health and Human Services. “Fortunately, the lesion that wouldn’t heal below my eye in 2008 turned out to be basil cell carcinoma and was completely removed with surgery. Sunscreen wasn’t something that I knew of growing up and I had some significant sunburns. Now I don’t leave the house without sunscreen on and have a nice hat collection. Please protect yourself and those you care about from sun exposure and skin cancer!”


Being physically active outside is healthy and can help prevent conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.  Time outdoors may also promote mental health and stress reduction.  But it’s important to be sun smart when playing and working outdoors.  Ultraviolet (UV) rays are a part of sunlight that is an invisible form of radiation.  You are exposed to UV rays on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days.  The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends easy options for protection from UV rays:   limit sun exposure; seek shade, especially during midday hours; wear a wide brim hat, UV absorbent sunglasses, and protective clothing to shield skin; use broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 to protect exposed skin - sunscreen works best when combined with shade or clothes, and it must be re-applied every two hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off; and avoid indoor tanning.


Whether tanning or burning, you are exposing yourself to harmful UV rays that damage your skin.  In fact, every time you tan, you increase your risk of melanoma (a form of skin cancer).  You are also setting yourself up for premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, and cataracts.  Tanned skin is not healthy skin; a tan is the body’s response to injury from UV rays.  The truly healthy glow is your natural skin color.


You may have heard that indoor tanning is the safer way to tan, because you can control your level of exposure to UV rays.  The truth is that indoor tanning exposes you to intense UV rays, increasing your risk of deadly melanoma, the second most common cancer in women between 20 and 29 years old. 


“It is against New York State law for anyone under 17 years of age to indoor tan,” said Schuyler.  “Parents play an important role in their teens’ health, and this is true for indoor tanning.  Don’t tan yourself, and don’t allow your teen to tan.”


What about vitamin D? Ultraviolet rays from the sun can stimulate production of vitamin D in the skin.  The skin can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D at one time.  Once the body has reached this limit, spending more time in the sun will not continue to increase vitamin D levels.  However, continued time in the sun will increase your skin cancer risk.  You can also get vitamin D through your diet or dietary supplements.  Food sources of vitamin D include some types of fish; foods with added vitamin D, such as some cereals; juices; dairy products; and egg yolks. CDC data shows that most people in the US are getting enough vitamin D.


Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the US, and most cases are preventable.  This disease can greatly reduce quality of life, and it can be disfiguring and even deadly.  According to the Surgeon General, many of the most common types of cancers are decreasing, but skin cancer rates are on the rise.


Exposure to UV rays, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds, is a major cause of skin cancer – and the most preventable.  Genetic factors, such as being fair skinned or having a family history of skin cancer, increase a person’s risk, but the most common types of skin cancer are also strongly associated with exposure to UV radiation. 


For more information on skin cancer, please visit www.cdc.gov.


To read the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer, visit https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/prevent-skin-cancer/index.html .


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