Misty Kevech, HHQI RN Project Coordinator
Summer is officially here according to the calendar, schools are out, and the weather is heating up! Time to spend time catching some sun and enjoying the outdoors for many people and their families, including you. Are you and your family using caution in the sun to prevent skin cancer? What about your patients? Maybe they are sitting on their porch this summer for periods of time. Here are some facts and tips on preventing skin cancer. Share with your friends and family, too.
Skin Cancer (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC, 2017)
Nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year in the United States. Skin cancer can be serious, expensive, and sometimes even deadly. Fortunately, most skin cancers can be prevented. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes.
- Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or from artificial sources, like tanning beds, are known to cause skin cancer.
- Damage from exposure to UV rays builds up over time, so sun protection should start at an early age.
Signs of Skin Cancer (National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health – NIOSH, 2014)
The most common types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Signs of skin cancer may include:
- Irregular borders on moles (ragged, notched, or blurred edges)
- Moles that are not symmetrical (one half doesn’t match the other)
- Colors that are not uniform throughout
- Moles that are bigger than a pencil eraser
- Itchy or painful moles
- New moles
- Sores that bleed and do not heal
- Red patches or lumps
Stay Sun-Safe Outdoors (CDC, 2017)
- Seek shade, especially during midday hours. Umbrellas, trees, or other shelters can provide relief from the sun.
- Be extra careful around surfaces that reflect the sun’s rays, like snow, sand, water, and concrete.
- Wear sun protection gear, like a wide brim hat and sunglasses, to protect your face and eyes. Wrap-around sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection by blocking UV rays from the side.
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants or a long skirt for additional protection, when possible. If that’s not practical, try wearing a T-shirt or a beach cover-up.
- Apply a thick layer of broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher at least 15 minutes before going outside, even on cloudy or overcast days. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
Limit UV Exposure: Discourage Indoor and Outdoor Tanning (CDC, 2017)
UV rays are strongest late morning through mid-afternoon. Remember that sunburns and skin damage can occur even on cloudy or overcast days.
Indoor and outdoor tanning often begin in the teen years and continue into adulthood. Don’t wait to teach your children about the dangers of tanning. Children may be more receptive than teens, so start the conversation early, before they start outdoor tanning or indoor tanning. For example, you can—
- Help preteens and teens understand the dangers of tanning so they can make healthy choices.
- Talk about avoiding tanning, especially before special events like homecoming, prom, or spring break. Discourage tanning, even if it’s just before one event like prom. UV exposure adds up over time. Every time you tan, you increase your risk of getting skin cancer.
Indoor tanning exposes users to intense levels of UV rays, a known cause of cancer. It does not offer protection against future sunburns. A “base tan” is actually a sign of skin damage. Indoor tanning can lead to serious injury. In fact, indoor tanning accidents and burns send more than 3,000 people to the emergency room each year!
Sunburn (NIOSH, 2014)
It usually takes four hours after the sun exposure for sunburn symptoms to occur. The burn will get worse within 24-36 hours, and resolve in 3-5 days. Symptoms include:
- Red, tender and swollen skin and blistering
- Sunburned eyes become red, dry, painful, and feel gritty
First Aid (NIOSH, 2014)
- Take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to relieve pain, headache, and fever.
- Drink plenty of water to help replace fluid losses.
- Comfort burns with cool baths or the gentle application of cool wet cloths.
- Avoid further exposure until the burn has resolved.
- Use of a topical moisturizing cream, aloe, or 1% hydrocortisone cream may provide additional relief.
If blistering occurs:
- Lightly bandage or cover the area with gauze to prevent infection.
- Do not break blisters. (This slows healing and increases risk of infection.)
- When the blisters break and the skin peels, dried skin fragments may be removed and an antiseptic ointment or hydrocortisone cream may be applied.
Seek medical attention if any of the following occur:
- Severe sunburns covering more than 15% of the body
- High fever (>101 °F)
- Extreme pain that persists for longer than 48 hours
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Skin cancer – Basic information about skin cancer.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Skin cancer – Basic information – What can I do to reduce my risk of skin cancer?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Skin cancer – Sun safety.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017) Skin cancer – Sun safety tips for families.
Califf, R.M. & Shinkai, K. (2019). Editorial – Filling in the evidence about sunscreen. JAMA, 321(21):2077-2079.
Metta, M.K.,Zusterzeel, Pilli, N.R., Patel, V., Volpe, D.A., Florian, J.,… Strauss, D.G. (2019). Effect of sunscreen application under maximal use conditions on plasma concentration of sunscreen active ingredients – A randomized clinical trial. JAMA, 321(21): 2082-2091.
National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health. (2014). NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Sun Exposure.
A.K. Julian. (2019, May 1). Blog – The truth about sunscreen: 7 facts that will set you straight for skin protection this summer.
Basic Information About Skin Cancer webpage (CDC, 2019)
Protect Your Family From Skin Cancer Fact Sheet (CDC, 2017)