By Joel McFarlandMay 25, 2017
FORT SILL, Okla., May 25, 2017 -- With summer upon us it is time to start focusing on all the outside activities that go along with the warmer weather. Summer is also the busiest time of year for Reynolds Army Health Clinic's (RAHC) Department of Dermatology.
May is Sun Safety Awareness Month at Reynolds and throughout summer, the Reynolds Dermatology Clinic will offer important tips and advice to limit and prevent your exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
According to Maj. Tyler Moss, Reynolds Dermatologist, "Sunlight helps produce Vitamin D which is important for growth and can improve your mood, but it also has negative side effects. Long term unprotected sun exposure can lead to serious skin conditions and premature aging. Sun rays contain UV radiation which is a proven carcinogen. UV radiation causes skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma."
He added nonmelanoma skin cancers are the most common cancers in the United States with more than 5.4 million cases reported annually. Over the past three decades, more people have had nonmelanoma skin cancer than all other cancers combined. It is also estimated that one in five Americans will develop this type of skin cancer in their lifetime.
"The good news is most times they are curable," said Moss, "We see these types of nonmelanomas throughout the year here at the hospital and treatments we have available such as excision and topical medications are often used with successful results."
With a family history of skin cancer, James Brabenec is a regular at the dermatology clinic for annual checkups. Brabenec's ancestry on his mother's side is predominantly fair-skinned Swedes, and with that fair skin, a sunburn was the way toward a "healthy" tan years ago.
Though he doesn't recall too many instances of blistering sunburns, Brabenec said he's had his fair share and with that the lesions and moles associated with frequent sun exposure. And, he has another possible risk factor.
"My mother died of melanoma at the age of 44 when I was 15," said Brabenec. "From what I've learned, growing up she loved to lay out in the sun."
That penchant for soaking up tanning rays led to a lesion on his mother's neck, which was ultimately diagnosed as melanoma.
"Back then people didn't have sunscreen -- more likely they used coconut or baby oil," said Brabenec. "When sunscreens first became available, I used them though they were messy and tended to stain my clothes."
He added throughout most of his adult years, outdoor activities always included wearing long sleeves and pants, sun hats, and sunglasses.
"I've been fortunate, perhaps, to outlive my mother, but I still take this very seriously," said Brabenec. "I'm also very careful about keeping out of the sun during the peak burn hours."
Health professionals now understand the effects of solar radiation to a greater degree, and are more specific in their recommendations of daytime summer activities.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology's website, people who experience five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20 increase their melanoma risk by 80 percent and nonmelanoma skin cancer risk by 68 percent.
Donnie Henderson, a dermatology nurse at RAHC, said efforts were made during May to educate hospital visitors on sun safety. The dermatology staff even handed out free sunscreen.
"The vast majority of melanoma is UV attributed. One study reported 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun," Moss said. "Another study mentions a person's risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns."
UV radiation is known to cause aging of the skin. Wrinkles, dark spots, and discoloration are all due to UV radiation and can be prevented by decreased sun exposure, avoidance of indoor tanning salons and outdoor tanning, and proper use of sunscreen.
"Our number one priority here at RAHC is Soldier readiness," Moss said, "and something that seems as innocent as sunburn can contribute to an increase of melanoma and other conditions that inhibit the readiness of a unit."
Henderson said UV protection can be accomplished by multiple ways.
"We recently did a live video on Facebook stressing the ways you can protect yourself." Henderson said. "Long sleeves and pants with a wide brimmed hat provide ample protection from the sun, avoidance of the sun between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and using a daily sunscreen even if you only spend a few minutes a day outside are all great preventive measures."
Moss stressed the importance of avoiding the use of tanning beds.
"Tanning beds can increase your chance of squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent. People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent," he said.
Summertime is a wonderful time to be outdoors where we can swim, fish, hike, and bike. Now is the time, no matter what age, to get into the practice of protecting yourself from the sun. Skin cancers can be prevented by taking the necessary protective measures every day.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with the Reynolds Army Health Clinic Dermatology Clinic, contact your primary care provider using TRICARE Online or calling the RAHC appointment line at 580-558-2000.