By Dawn Holman, MPH, CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control
I haven’t always been convinced of the importance of sun safety. In my younger years, I got more sunburns than I’d like to admit in an attempt to develop a tan. In college, I spent afternoons studying outside on a sunny quad with nothing more than shorts and a tank top for sun protection.
I was in denial about the long-term effects of too much sun exposure. Ironically, I found myself working on a sun-safety program for outdoor swimming pools during graduate school, which eventually led to my graduate thesis on sun safety among lifeguards. But it wasn’t until after I started working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that I became sold on sun safety, as both a critical public health issue and also a habit that I wanted to take seriously in my own life.
What changed? It was a combination of personal stories and high-quality data. I watched a coworker and then, just a year later, a family friend, both receive diagnoses of stage IV melanoma and saw how the disease can affect the lives of individuals and their families. I also learned about CDC’s national data on melanoma incidence and mortality and gained a greater appreciation for the impact skin cancer has on our nation. Every year in the United States, nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer at a cost of about $8 billion. And each year, more than 75,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma, which can sometimes be deadly.
An Ounce of Prevention
I spend a lot of my working hours thinking about how we might reverse the current trend of growing skin cancer rates in our country. The good news is that oncology nurses can help make an impact by protecting their own skin and encouraging others to do the same.
Most skin cancers are caused, at least in part, by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or from indoor tanning devices. This means that simple steps like using clothing and hats to cover up, staying in the shade, and using sunscreen (at least one ounce of broad-spectrum, SPF 30+, applied every two hours) on exposed skin can go a long way to reduce skin cancer risk. It’s also important to avoid sunbathing and indoor tanning. Simply put, tanning your skin is damaging your skin.
Special Considerations for Patients With Cancer
Many cancer treatments increase a person’s sensitivity to the sun. Remind your patients to rely on more than sunscreen alone and that a combination of clothing, shade, and sunscreen works best to ensure they are getting the protection they need. They can also consider timing outdoor activities to avoid midday, when the sun’s rays are most intense.
CDC’s skin cancer resource area provides additional sun safety tips and resources. Have a happy and sun-safe summer!