This story was originally published in May 2019.
Summer is here and with it more time spent outside digging in the garden, exploring Maine’s rocky coasts or hiking high mountain peaks. It is time to soak up the sun, breathe the fresh air and put winter’s woes aside.
But are you and your family ready?
The Centers for Disease Control recently listed Maine as one of the top 10 states reporting new cases of melanomas to the skin and according to the Maine Cancer Foundation, there are more than 400 new cases of melanoma projected per year statewide, with even higher rates along the coast. In Hancock County in 2015, for example, 114 cases were reported while in Somerset County there were only 55 cases reported.
While cancer impacts people of ages, ethnicities, races and genders, it does not always do so equally. Skin cancer, in particular, is more common in males than females. It affects 25 of every 100,000 Caucasian individuals versus 1 of every 100,000 African-American individuals. It also is more commonly found as people age with the highest rate of skin cancer being found in patients ages 75-85, according to the CDC.
So what does that mean for you and your family? Number one, while making summer plans, don’t forget to include sun safety measures alongside the homemade Popsicle molds you’ve been saving to try all winter or the splash pad playdates to come.
Need some ideas? Here are five ways you can stay sun-safe this summer.
Think beyond the white stuff
Sun safety is more than sunscreen. Seek shade, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Purchase a large sun umbrella or three-walled sunshade if you’re planning on spending time at the lake or beach. Consider purchasing rash guards — long or short sleeve swim shirts — for children (or even yourself) and don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses for everyone in the family.
Road trip? Pack snacks and a hat
A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that almost 53 percent of skin cancers in the U.S. are found on the left — or driver’s side — of the body. Susan T. Butler, co-author of the study argues the increase may be from the UV exposure that occurs while driving a car. Butler’s team found more than 82 percent of skin cancer on patients’ heads or necks, so consider foregoing the convertible and keeping the left arm out of the window, or at least wear a hat and apply sunscreen to exposed areas such as the face, neck, scalp and ears.
A shot glass of sunscreen
The Skin Cancer Foundation has long recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher as a daily precaution. However, if you’re out and about, it should be an even higher SPF and more than just one dime-sized application. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends 1 ounce (or almost a full shot glass) every two hours, more often if swimming or sweating.
Know your acronyms
SPF. UVA. UVB. All of the numbers and acronyms associated with sunscreen can get confusing. So here are the basics: Sunlight consists of two types of rays, UVA — which can pass through window glass and prematurely age the skin — and UVB — which are blocked by window glass but are the primary cause of sunburn. UVA-blocking ingredients include avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. SPF, on the other hand, stands for “sun blocking factor.” While playing in direct sunlight, dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 30 which blocks upward of 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. And while higher-SPF sunscreens may block slightly more, they don’t last any longer and still need to be reapplied every two hours. So, choose any sunscreen you know you’ll use over and over, just make sure it offers broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection and is at least SPF 30.
Schedule an annual exam
With more than 1 million cases diagnosed annually nationwide, the most common type of skin cancer is known as basal cell carcinoma, or BCC. This type of skin cancer rarely spreads and as such, is unlikely to be fatal. Melanoma, however, is less common, but when advanced is more likely to spread throughout the body and cause death. Fortunately, self-exams and regular visits to a specialist may be able to help. At least once a month perform a full body self-exam, making sure to check the “nooks and crannies” — behind the knees, underarms, the scalp — as well as the more obvious areas. If you spot anything suspicious, see a doctor. Also, consider booking an annual exam with a dermatologist. According to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, skin self-exams had the potential to decrease melanoma mortality by up to 63 percent, and melanomas found by physicians tend to be found at an earlier stage and more easily cured than those found by patients.