VA North Texas Health Care System
Protect Your Skin while Enjoying the Outdoors this Summer
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In 2008, approximately 60,000 people were diagnosed with skin melanoma (the deadliest type of skin cancer), and more than 8,600 died from it.
The three most common forms (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) are all strongly associated with excessive sun damage and heavy sun exposure over time and usually form on the head, face, neck, hands and arms.
Sun exposure, sun tanning and tanning beds all deliver ultraviolet (UV) irradiation to the skin. In fact, tanning is a natural, biological reaction of skin to protect us against sun burns and sun damage. Unfortunately, with repeated and prolonged sun over time, the skin will accumulate permanent damage.
Dermatologists at VA North Texas Health Care System have a wide variety of treatments, valuable information and technology at their fingertips to keep Veterans from developing skin cancer and treat those who are suffering from the disease.
Ponciano Cruz, M.D., chief of dermatology, has been overseeing treatment of skin cancer for more than 10 years. Typical treatments include surgical excision, Mohs chemosurgery and radiation therapy. Cruz said, "The number of skin cancer cases has been going up over the past few decades, and finding it early is the best way to ensure it can be treated effectively."
Advanced sun-damaged skin looks very much like premature aging--changes in pigmentation (blotchy brown freckles and age spots), dryness, areas of redness, thinning of the dermis, loss of elasticity and sagging, wrinkled skin all occur. While people with fair skin who burn easily are at the highest risk for severe sun damage, nobody is immune or even completely protected.
In addition, a family history of skin-related cancer or having numerous (more than 20 or so) pigmented skin spots (moles) may mean you could be at higher genetic risk for developing some types of skin cancer. Indoor tanning should also be avoided and has been linked with skin cancers including melanoma.
Skin damage from sun exposure is largely permanent. Prevention is the best strategy.
Protect your skin during times of anticipated significant sun exposure, by:
- Applying sun block products often
- Using hats with a wide brim
- Wearing sunglasses
Many skin care products are marked with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) which is the measure of its sun-blocking affect. For most people, SPF 15 or higher provides adequate protection. However, if you are sensitive to the sun and burn more easily, consider SPF 30 or higher when exposure will be prolonged. It is important to reapply even waterproof sun block products repeatedly when sweating or swimming. If possible, avoid sun exposure during the most intense periods of the day, for example, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. When sunburns do occur, avoidance of further immediate damaging sun exposure and moisturizers are important measures for early healing.
Veterans are encouraged to perform a head-to-toe examination of their skin once a month and call their primary care doctor about questionable moles, freckles or other skin discolorations.