by James Althouse, DCW staff
The U.S. Food and Drug administration estimates that approximately one million Americans each year will be stricken with skin cancer, a potentially deadly disease, which is the most common of all types of cancers.
Lucky for most, the vast majority of these cases will be either basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas, which are treatable and usually not life-threatening when caught in their early stages. Those who develop melanoma, however, are not so fortunate — approximately 25 percent of melanoma patients will be killed by their disease.
And what is the No. 1 cause of all skin cancers? You guessed it — the sun. Corps members beware!
The sun’s rays
Sunlight is made up in part by invisible ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB, which can have both short- and long-term effects on the skin. Aside from the immediate potential sunburn, UV exposure over time, even without burning, leads to DNA damage and a breakdown of the makeup and function of skin cells, disrupting the repair systems which normally guard the skin from injury.
As time progresses, damage accumulates and the cells begin to divide and grow abnormally, ultimately becoming cancerous.
Remember — a sunburn is really a first degree radiation burn and an obvious sign of the sun’s harmful properties.
While both UVA and UVB radiation contribute to cancer and the unsightly effects of aging, UVB rays are thought to be the more dangerous of the two and are primarily responsible for sunburns and to a lesser degree, suntans. Although these beams only penetrate the outermost layers of the skin, some experts believe they are the main culprit behind deadly melanomas.
UVA rays are less likely to burn the skin, yet they penetrate deeper, causing damage to the underlying connective tissue as well as to the skin’s surface. The FDA points out, however, that UVA is likely more dangerous than once thought and that there is really no such thing as “safe” UV rays.
Are tanning salons and UV lamps that emit mostly UVA light less harmful alternatives to the sun’s rays? Experts say “No way.”
“There is no such thing as a safe tan,” dermatologist Dr. Sekula Rodriguez recently reported at a 2002 American Academy of Dermatology Skin Cancer gathering. “A tan is the skin’s response to an injury and every time you tan, you accumulate damage to the skin, as well as accelerate the aging process and increase your risk for skin cancer.”
So, at best, those long, unprotected summer days will bestow you with the weathered, blotchy, scaly, rough and spotted look of premature aging. At worst — cancer.
Considering the fact that there is currently no repair treatment available for reversing the brutal effects of the suns’ rays on the skin, preventing damage before it occurs is easily the best approach to maintaining healthy skin.
So what can we do for prevention? The answer is simple.
Cover-up clothing is an excellent way to block UV radiation. A number of companies now make specialty sun-blocking clothing that is very effective. Clothing may be rated by SPF or by UPF, Ultraviolet Protection Factor, which is also a multiplier of how much longer you can stay in the sun.
Other types of non-specialty clothing can also efficiently block the sun, but proceed with caution.
The AAD warns that a wet, light-colored shirt can transmit almost as much light to the skin as no protection at all! To roughly estimate a garment’s blocking abilities, hold the fabric up to a light source — the more light penetrates through fabric, the more UV radiation will likely penetrate as well.
Experts also recommend wearing hats with at least a 3-inch brim and sunscreen on all areas not covered by clothing. Don’t be fooled by clouds and haze. UV radiation easily penetrates both of these.
In the end, if preserving your wonderfully smooth and healthy complexion is not enough of a reward and you still crave a darker skin tone, try using one of the many new tan-in-a-bottle products. The new formulas offer major improvements over the orange, blotchy results of products-past.
Your future skin will thank you.
Sun safety education can be designed to help corps members acquire:
knowledge about the harmful effects of the sun and ways to protect the skin;
sun-safe skills, including the correct use of protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm, as well as seeking shade and limiting sun exposure when possible and practical, during the hours of peak sun intensity; and
knowledge about how to assess sun safety habits, set goals for improvement and achieve the goals.
The program can be developmentally appropriate, active, engaging and taught in lessons that emphasize the positive benefits of sun safety.
Staff responsible for sun safety education need to be well-prepared and regularly participate in professional development activities to effectively deliver the sun safety educational program. Preparation and professional development activities should provide basic knowledge of skin cancer prevention, combined with skill practice in program-specific activities and instructional techniques and strategies designed to promote sound, consistent behavior to protect the skin from sun damage.
Corps should create, implement and monitor a plan to address sun safety outdoors that considers measures such as protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm and access to shaded areas. This plan should contain the following elements:
ways to encourage corps members to wear sunglasses and protective clothing while outdoors;
provisions that allow or require corps members to wear hats that protect the face, neck and ears whenever they are outside;
an enumeration of ways to ensure that students have access to and use a SPF 15 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen or lotion and lip balm.
Working together, corps staff and members can effectively reduce the chance of members getting skin cancer in the future.