Even from almost 93 million miles away, the sun inspires awe. It produces just the right amount of energy for plants, animals and humans to survive; holds our planet in a secure orbit; and instills joy in our hearts as we open our blinds, walk in the park or enjoy a beach vacation.
As is the case with many good things, we pay a steep price when we get too much sun. My brother learned this the hard way a couple of years ago when, after being prodded by his wife, he scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist to investigate an odd mole on his leg. Much to his shock, it was melanoma — the type of cancer responsible for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. His wife, children, mother and siblings were alarmed. Would he be among those who die of melanoma — on average 117 people in Colorado every year?
Unbeknownst to us at the time, we learned my brother wasn’t so unusual. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, accounting for more cancer diagnoses than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one in five people in the United States will develop skin cancer during their lifetime.
Fortunately, skin cancer is largely preventable. A few simple steps go a long way toward protecting ourselves from overexposure:
Avoid getting burned. Sunburns are nothing to laugh about. Every sunburn, especially for children, significantly increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
Never tan or use tanning beds. The ultraviolet light that causes a tan also causes skin cancer. And if that isn’t enough to scare you, it causes early wrinkling, too.
Wear sunscreen. Choose sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher and broad-spectrum protection. Why both? SPF only refers to the level of protection from UVB rays. To offer full protection, sunscreen must also contain such ingredients as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide that block harmful UVA rays.
Don’t skimp. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people use at most half the amount of sunscreen they need for protection. For the average-sized body, an ounce of sunscreen, or the equivalent of a shot glass full, is needed for protection. Moreover, it’s important to reapply every two hours and each time you get out of the water or sweat heavily.
Wear protective clothing. Whenever possible, wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with 99 percent to 100 percent UVA and UVB protection.
Seek shade. Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest. If you must be outside, stay in the shade as much as possible.
While we each need to take responsibility for our health and safety, employers also have a responsibility to help protect workers from sun exposure. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends employers take the following steps:
Schedule outdoor work before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. when possible.
Provide break areas indoors or in the shade.
n Offer education and training to team members about the dangers of sun exposure, how to prevent overexposure and the signs and symptoms of overexposure.
Luckily for my family, my brother’s cancer was discovered early enough to have it removed successfully. This prompted the rest of the family to get screened, too, which resulted in my sister discovering she also had an early stage melanoma. We learned early detection saves lives.
One way you and your team members can detect melanoma early is to do self-examinations and look for the ABCDE signs outlined by the American Cancer Society:
A for asymmetry — when two halves of a mole don’t match.
B for border — when edges are irregular, ragged or blurred.
C for color — when the color is not the same all over.
nD for diameter — when the spot is larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser.
E for evolving — when a mole changes in size, shape or color.
It’s important to note not all skin cancers fit this pattern. So if you or a loved one has a suspicious-looking mole or skin lesion that doesn’t seem to heal, get it checked out right away. Don’t wait for disaster to strike.
Pay tribute to the sun by expressing gratitude for its life-giving attributes, but also taking precautions under its powerful rays.