Too much sun poses threat of cancer

With pool season upon us, it’s important to remind ourselves of the dangers of sun exposure. You’re never too young or too old to be harmed by the sun.

Excessive sun exposure is responsible for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers, which occur at the epidemic rate of more than a million new cases each year in the United States.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that, in addition to an annual professional skin examination, a head-to-toe self-exam is performed at least once every three months. Call a doctor immediately if you see any of these warning signs:

n A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored.

n A mole that changes in color or in texture, becomes irregular in outline, increases in size or thickness, or is greater than one quarter inch in diameter.

n A spot or growth that continues to itch, hurt, scab, erode or bleed.

n An open sore that persists for more than four weeks or that heals and then reopens.

If you have had more than five sunburns, your chances of developing melanoma, a form of skin cancer, doubles. Melanoma can develop from a brief incident of excessive sun exposure that causes a sunburn that turns into blisters. Developing melanoma can be avoided by simply ensuring you do not burn.

Other risk factors such as genetic predispositions, individual skin types and/or the presence of many moles on the body can increase your risk for developing melanoma. Melanoma is not limited to areas commonly exposed to sun or sunburned areas; rather it can appear on any location of the body.

The two most common types of nonmelanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These types of skin cancer develop from a lifetime of tanning or sun exposure. Basal and squamous cell carcinoma are commonly found on skin areas that are exposed to the sun such as the hands, ears, face and other areas of the skin that are typically left uncovered.

Each year more than half of all new skin cancer cases occur in individuals 65 years of age and older. Excessive exposure to the sun is the blame. If you are 65 years of age or older and take regular medication, the risk of developing photosensitivity, an intense skin reaction to the sun, significantly increases. Be sure to consult your physician or pharmacist before administering any new medication and specifically inquire on its interaction with the sun.

Remember these helpful tips on how to stay safe in the sun:

n Apply sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher every day 30 minutes before going outdoors.

n Reapply sunscreen every two hours while outdoors.

n Try to avoid direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; stay in the shade.

n Perform a skin self-examination every month but at least once every three months; check for the warning signs listed above.

n Consult your physician for a skin exam each year.

n Do not use tanning beds and avoid excessive exposure.

n Cover up with clothing as much as possible, wear a hat that shades the face and wear UV-blocking sunglasses.

To Your Health is written by the staff of Boulder City Hospital. For more information, call 702-293-4111, ext. 576, or visit bouldercityhospital.org.

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