May 3, 2021
An American dies every 72 minutes from melanoma.
The first Monday in May is known as Melanoma Monday, a day set aside by the American Academy of Dermatology to remind Americans that melanoma is one of our deadliest forms of skin cancer. The rate of melanoma in this country has doubled since 1982. On average, an American dies every 72 minutes from melanoma—young, old, male, female. Protecting your skin from damaging Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and tanning beds can help to prevent melanoma in some cases. Many people think that their sunscreen will fully protect them from this deadly cancer. It may not.
Many sunscreen brands tout their high SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, number. This number represents how long a sunscreen will protect you from the sun’s burning rays--to be precise, only the Ultraviolet B rays. UVB rays promote sunburn and skin cancer. But UVB is only part of the story. UVA rays from the sun damage your skin and promote skin cancer too. But SPF does not measure UVA protection. UVA rays accelerate skin aging, suppress the immune system, promote melanoma cancer growth and are the primary rays in tanning booths. So how well your sunscreen protects you from these rays is a guess. Your high SPF sunscreen may keep you from burning, but only partially protect you from UVA rays. Mineral sunscreens and those sunscreens specifically designated to be broad spectrum will help. And we await FDA approval of more sunscreen ingredients (such as those currently available in Europe) which are strong UVA blocking agents.
Until then, avoid the mid-day sun, seek shade, and wear clothing and wide-brimmed hats along with your sunscreen. Melanoma and other forms of skin cancer are preventable in many cases, or at least vigilance can result in it being caught early. Don’t use tanning beds at any age. This applies especially to children and teens, who are highly susceptible to their damaging rays. Examine your skin regularly. If you see something, say something! Make an appointment with your Dermatologist to have any new, suspicious or changing spots checked out. A life may depend upon it.
Information in this article came from the American Academy of Dermatology; please visit this website at www.aad.org to learn more.
Charlotte L Kutsch, MD, FAAD, Board-certified in Dermatology, practicing at Family Dermatology Clinic, affiliated with Community Medical Center, Missoula MT.