TULSA, Okla. — While there’s been a lot of focus this week on Oklahoma heat, the effects of intense sunlight can be equally damaging.
According to the American Cancer Society, the vast majority of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma, the third most common form of skin cancer in the United States.
While staying hydrated in the extreme heat is important, protecting your skin, your body’s largest organ, also matters.
When reporting in direct sun, FOX23 News Reporter Amy Hybels tries to wear long sleeves, a visor, and sun gloves. She’s not the only one taking steps to protect her skin from the suns damaging rays while working outdoors in the elements.
Before Green Leaf Lawn Lead Tech Oliver Harper begins spraying liquid fertilizer on lawns, he sprays himself down with lots of sunscreen.
“We wear the long sleeves of course,” he explained, “that does a good job of protecting our arms, and then sunscreen on our neck and the ears is the biggest thing.”
The sunscreen protection is important for Harper, as his job requires him to spend hours everyday working in direct sunlight.
“It beats down on us pretty hard,” Harper remarked, “especially when I have to go and put the backpack on and spot spray the weeds.”
Whether Tulsans are working, or playing, homeowner Jeff Vause and his son Garrett said coverage is key when spending time in the sun. They made sure to cover up while on a recent family vacation in the Caribbean.
“Go out early if you’re going to be out all day,” said Vause, “Lots of sunscreen, you know the kids are wearing rash guards, wearing broad brimmed hats, lip balm to protect your lips, I mean covering as much as you can.”
There’s reason for concern. Recent data from the U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group, the U.S. Cancer Statistics Data Visualizations Tool and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services among others indicates melanomas of the skin are among the top ten cancers by rates of new cancer cases in the United States.
Melanoma is also the most deadly form of skin cancer. Dr. Kristen Rice, a dermatologist with Midtown Dermatology explains what causes it:
“Melanoma is usually caused by ultra violet light exposure, and that’s generally from the sun, from more frequent sun exposure or more severe sun exposure like severe sunburns in your lifetime,” she said, “but it can also be from tanning bed ultra violet exposure.”
Dr. Rice said tanning beds are one of the number one causes of skin cancer, especially in younger people:
“Tanning beds are never beneficial, despite what we may be told, tanning beds just cause damage,” she said. “There’s no data that supports needing to get a base tan in order to prevent sunburns, that is not valid.”
Melanoma, while deadly, is also preventable according to Dr. Rice who said knowing what to look for is key:
“If a spot on your body is asymmetric, meaning one side doesn’t look like the other, it needs to be evaluated,” she said. “If it has a funny shaped border, different colors within a single spot, a larger diameter, or if it’s evolved or changed over time.”
Dr. Rice also educates her patients about the “Ugly Duckling” sign, a spot on your body that just doesn’t look like the others.
“It could be one that’s changing,” she explained. “It could be, like this one shows, one that’s pink when everything else is brown, it could be one that’s just bigger when everything else is kind of smaller.”
If there’s one that doesn’t fit with the crowd, she said it needs to be evaluated to see if there’s a need for a biopsy to determine if its cancer.
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, melanomas can also occur in areas that don’t receive much sun exposure, like the soles of feet, palms of hands, and fingernail beds.
The so-called “hidden” melanomas are more common in people with darker skin, that’s why head-to- toe exams are important for everyone.
Dr. Rice added that melanoma doesn’t have to dark brown or black, it can be pink in color. One needs to be on the lookout for things that are new, growing, changing or that don’t fit with the rest of the spots on the body.
When it comes to prevention, Dr. Rice advises using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and making sure it contains at least 5% zinc oxide which helps to serve as a physical barrier to the suns rays. She said sunscreen should be used year round.
For more information on identifying a melanoma, click here.
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