There’s No Such Thing as a Safe Tan

Categories: Skin Cancer

August 10, 2016

We Pacific Northwesterners love our sun. After a long wet winter, summer calls to us with all the beauty our great outdoors has to offer. Outside we go, many of us to soak up a little sun – but be careful, our region has one of the highest incidences of melanoma in the United States. We’re not quite sure why that is but we’re definitely sure everyone can reduce their risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers with some sun safe precautions.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. with 3.5 million skin cancers in more than 2 million people being diagnosed annually. That’s higher than the incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. It’s the 5th most common cancer in men and the 7th in women.

A little knowledge about the whys of skin care is the best first step in risk reduction. Continued exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun creates genetic damage in the cells within the skin and that damage can accumulate over the years. Those damaged cells can then grow and cause melanoma and other skin cancers. Everyone is at risk, including those with dark skin.

Your take away? There is simply no such thing as a safe tan. Any tan or burn is essentially genetic damage and parents should know that much of a person’s risk is actually garnered in the first 10 years of life. So it’s especially important to protect children from harmful UV rays.

The sun isn’t the only culprit. Tanning booths are a particularly unsafe tan. The FDA has actually classified them as carcinogenic to humans. That’s right, even one session in a tanning booth can increase your risk of melanoma.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer due to its ability to spread to other parts of the body where it’s more difficult to treat. Skin cancer, including melanoma, is very curable if caught early. Surgery alone is frequently all that is needed in the early stages. That’s why regular skin checks are so important. Get to know your skin and the A, B, C, D, E’s of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: A mole that is asymmetrical should be checked immediately. 
  • Borders: The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven or notched.
  • Color: A mole with a variety of colors is a warning signal for melanoma.
  • Diameter: Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser on a pencil.
  • Evolution: Any mole that starts to change or evolve in any way should be evaluated.

If you receive a diagnosis of advanced melanoma, it’s very important that you have the appropriate surgical removal. At Compass we know patients often benefit from being evaluated by a medical oncologist to help coordinate that care. In the case of a thicker melanoma, additional therapies may be needed including immune based therapy and sometimes radiation therapy. In recent years, dramatic progress in our understanding of melanoma and the development of new treatments are revolutionizing the care of melanoma.

Our best advice, a little protection goes a long way in reducing your risk. Use a sunblock of SPF 30 or greater and reapply often, generally every 2 hours. It’s best to cover up and wear long sleeves, broad brimmed hats and UV protective sunglasses. The Skin Cancer Foundation is a great resource to learn more about skin cancer prevention through sun safe practices.