By Carolyn Maschke
While Southwest Georgia residents enjoy outdoor activities during the summer they should protect themselves against the most common form of cancer in the United States – skin cancer.
“The two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. But melanoma, the third most common, is more dangerous, especially among young people,” cautioned Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.
Research shows that people in areas that receive high levels of ultraviolet radiation have a higher risk of skin cancer. “In the United States, Southern states, including Georgia, fall into that category,” said Grant.
Grant said 65 percent to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, or sunlight. However, UV radiation comes from other sources besides the sun.
“It also comes from sunlamps, tanning beds and tanning booths,” she said. “It is important to know that your risk of skin cancer is related to your lifetime of exposure to UV radiation. The damage you do at an early age may not show up for years.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, most skin cancer appears after age 50.
Grant said that ultraviolet radiation affects everyone, but fair-skinned people who freckle or burn easily are at greater risk.
“Often people with these characteristics also have red or blond hair and light-colored eyes,” Grant said. “However, even people who tan can get skin cancer.”
Other risk factors associated with skin cancer include
- Scars or burns
- Infection with certain human papillomaviruses
- Exposure to arsenic in work settings
- Chronic skin inflammation or skin ulcers
- Radiation therapy
- Chronic diseases that make the skin sensitive to sunlight
- Personal or family history of skin cancer
- Suppressed immune system
- A scaly skin condition known as actinic keratosis
Protection from sun exposure is important year-round, although the danger of UV rays in Southwest Georgia is greatest in late spring and early summer, Grant said.
“The sun’s UV rays can damage your skin in just15 minutes,” she said. “For full protection, use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher with both UVA and UVB protection, and reapply it if you swim or exercise. We also recommend wearing hats, cover-ups and sun-glasses and staying in the shade.”