By Terry Kanakri
With Memorial Day weekend approaching, and many people looking forward to spending more time outdoors walking, biking, hiking, camping and swimming, we cannot forget an important fact: too much ultraviolet radiation exposure from the sun is hazardous to your health.
Indeed, it can cause skin cancer, a potentially deadly disease that afflicts approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. each day.
People of all ethnic groups are vulnerable to getting skin cancer, including people of color, many of whom wrongly think they are immune to skin cancer due to their dark skin. In addition, a 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology noted that melanoma, a form of skin cancer that affects all ethnic groups, is more frequently detected in later stages in Black men and women than in any other ethnic group. This can lead to a worse skin cancer prognosis and higher mortality rates.
“It is true that people with black or brown skin may have more tolerance for direct sun light and are less likely to get skin cancer, but they are definitely not immune,” said Dr. Linda Tolbert, regional chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, who is African American. “ Anyone can get skin cancer, so it’s smart for all of us to protect our skin from UV radiation to lessen the risk, including people of color.”
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
Though people of color are less likely to become afflicted with skin cancer, they are much more likely to die from it due to delay in detection or presentation, according to the National Library of Medicine. Very often, skin cancer is diagnosed at a more advanced stage in people of color, making treatment more difficult.
One of the best ways for everyone to protect your skin when outdoors is using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and it should be regularly reapplied. This includes every 1-2 hours when in the water or when sweating, Dr. Tolbert noted.
Additionally, there are other steps you should take to protect your skin. They include:
- Avoiding the sun during its peak hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Understanding that sand, water and snow can reflect 85% of the sun’s rays.
- Protecting your eyes by wearing sunglasses capable of blocking 99% of UVA and UVB radiation.
- Wearing loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing to cover much of your skin whenever possible.
- Wearing clothing with the UPF label that helps protect against UV radiation.
- Completely shielding the skin of babies younger than 6 months from the sun because their skin is more sensitive.
The Importance of Self-Examination
Dr. Tolbert encourages everyone to examine their skin periodically as early detection is critically important to successfully treating skin cancer.
“Look for new spots or growths on your skin that are changing,” she said. “Look for spots that may be growing, itching or bleeding. That could be an early sign of skin cancer that can occur even in sun-protected places, like the soles of our feet. If you detect any red flags, have your skin checked by a medical practitioner.”
There are great free resources online regarding skin cancer and prevention, including videos and tips for self-exams, including at www.aad.org. Kaiser Permanente also offers tips on skin cancer prevention, as well as care instructions.