Importance of Sun Protection

Importance+of+Sun+Protection

Ellie Bonnette, Editor-In-Chief

While we all need a little sunshine every day to maintain our healthy blood levels, too much exposure can be the kiss of death. Each year, more people are being diagnosed with skin cancer than the sum of all other types of cancers. According to the World Health Organization, “…between 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year.” But luckily, science has evolved tremendously over the past decade, and, if caught early, skin cancer can be highly treatable. 

  What exactly is skin cancer, and what causes it? Skin cancer begins in the upper or outer layer of the skin which consists of three different cells: squamous, basal, and melanocyte (cells that make melanin, the pigment of our skin). According to skincancer.org, “Skin cancer is the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations. These mutations lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. The main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC).” BCC is the most common form of skin cancer that looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump. SCC is the second most common form that looks like a scaly-sore. MCC is a very rare and aggressive type of cancer, and appears as a red bump. While these forms of skin cancer are all dangerous, melanoma is known to be the most dangerous because of its tendency to spread throughout the body. It appears as a dark mole on the skin. The main reasons why one may develop any of the following types of cancer are too much exposure to natural and artificial UV rays. In other words, too much tanning bed usage and unprotected sun time throughout the years. Additionally, there are risk factors associated with developing any of the following forms of skin cancer. Having a fair complexion, light eyes, and red or blonde hair is a risk factor, as well as a family history with skin cancer, and older age. 

On the bright side, each and every one of us has the ability to avoid suffering from skin cancer. Dermatologist Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD says, “ …as a practicing dermatologist in South Florida, I have a strong need to promote and reinforce the Benjamin Franklin proverb: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’” Dr. Fromowitz preaches this proverb literally, as in an ounce of SPF 15 or above sunscreen applied to your body daily has been proven to decrease the risks of developing non-melanoma skin cancer by 40% and melanoma skin cancer by 50%. As you may know, tanning beds literally feed skin cancer, so avoiding those certainly doesn’t hurt.

Additionally, treatments for melanoma, for example, have grown dramatically. With new treatments such as targeted therapies and immunotherapies, survival rates have increased. A study co-led by Allan Geller, P.H., R.N., of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states “Across the whole country, by 2013 to 2014, we really began to see a population-wide decrease [in melanoma mortality].” Furthermore, “Overall, the melanoma mortality rate declined by 17.9% during the 4-year period.”

Take it from Stage IV melanoma warrior, Tena Doss: “I grew up in Arizona. For as long as I can remember I was out in the sun. By the time I got to junior high and high school, I lived in the sun. Every weekend we would be in the backyard soaking our skin with baby oil seeing how dark we can get. In Mexico, we would be in the sun for 10 to 12 hours a day, and sometimes our sunburns were so bad chunks of skin would peel off and blister. Every time we got sunburned, our parents told us we needed to put on more sunblock. Instead, we just moved on with another day of sun, sun, and more sun. I’ve spent most of my life outdoors. I love working in the yard, I love hiking in the mountains, and I’ve been known to shovel 24 tons of rocks in the middle of summer with nothing but a tank top and shorts on. I thought nothing of cancer because everyone in my family had skin cancer of some sort, but I hadn’t had a little spot of skin cancer in so many years. I accounted for not having any cancer spots to my health. I took pride in my diet and how I exercised and tried to take such good care of myself. That’s why I wasn’t getting any more skin cancer and my brother, sister, dad were. I wore sunblock every day. Always on my face and neck, always on my hands and arms. Imagine going to the doctor one day because you have terrible headaches. Your sister sent you to see her doctor cause you don’t even have one yourself. I talked to the doctor and explained that I just have had severe headaches for days and days and usually they come and go but this one’s been pretty bad. She sent me for an MRI. Very short ending to a very long story is, I had four tumors in my brain. Once they took the first tumor out they were able to tell me that the tumors in my brain, lung, and spleen were melanoma. Imagine just living your life until one day you find out you have stage IV melanoma. Everything changed. I still love the sun. I have a new respect for it. Wear your sunblock. You can still get a tan and your skin will still be beautiful, even more beautiful when you put sunblock on! You never know how much damage is too much damage. Mine was too damaged.”

It’s never too early to take caution around the sun. While at the moment it may seem as if getting that “perfect tan” is worth it, a couple years down the road when you’re having to get a spot burned off your arm or when you’re receiving another MRI, it won’t be.