Too much sun poses health risk

By Velvie Bennett, Kenner Army Health Clinic Family Medicine ClinicAugust 24, 2017

Too  much sun poses health risks
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. (July 28, 2016) -- For anyone planning to spend time outdoors this summer, it is essential to protect skin from exposure to harmful sun rays known to cause skin cancer.

Melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and it is the deadliest form of the disease.

According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 68,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma each year and another 48,000 are diagnosed with an early form of the disease that involves only the top layer of skin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports melanoma incidence rates have continued to increase in the U.S., and risk behaviors remain high. Melanoma is responsible for the most skin cancer deaths, with about 9,000 each year.

People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of the disease, but here are some of the general ones listed by the CDC:

Lighter natural skin color

Family history or personal history of skin cancer

Chronic sun exposure

History of sunburns, especially early in life

History of indoor tanning, primarily before age 35

Skin that freckles, burns, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun

Multiple moles (more than 60)

Sun exposure is the most modifiable risk for melanoma. Ultraviolet rays come from the sun or indoor tanning -- such as using a tanning bed, tanning booth or sunlamp. When UV rays reach the skin's inner layer, the skin makes more melanin -- the pigment that colors the skin. It moves toward the outer layers of the skin and becomes visible as a tan.

A tan does not indicate healthy skin or good health. Tanned skin is a response to injury because skin cells signal they have been hurt by UV rays producing more pigment. Although everyone's skin can be damaged by UV exposure, people with sensitive skin and those who burn easily and tan very little are at the highest risk.

What are the signs of melanoma? Most have black or blue-black areas, but may appear as a new mole. It may be black, "ugly-looking" and abnormally shaped. The National Cancer Institute reminds people to think "ABCDE" to remember what to look for:

Asymmetry -- the shape of one-half of the suspicious mole does not match the other half

Border -- the edges are ragged, irregular or blurred

Color -- the color is uneven and may include shades of black, brown and tan

Diameter -- there has been a change in size, usually an increase

Evolving -- the mole has changed over the past few weeks or months

Surgery is the first treatment for all stages of melanoma. Prevention, however, is the best course of action. The National Institute of Health recommends to avoid or reduce of exposure to direct sunlight, especially from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are the strongest.

Other tips to help prevent melanoma include the following:

Wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that protects the body from direct sunlight

Wear sunglasses that absorb UV radiation to protect the skin around the eyes.

Apply sunscreen lotions with a sun protection factor of 30 or greater. Reapply every two hours and after swimming. It is important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion that filters both UVB and UVA radiation

Perform routine checks to monitor skin changes. If you notice a mole that is changing or is concerning, see a primary care provider for an evaluation.

There has been increased concern regarding Vitamin D deficiency in the news. Vitamin D is produced by the skin with UVB exposure.

Some promoters of tanning recommend tanning bed use to help produce Vitamin D. It is important to note it is produced with moderate exposure to UVB rays. Tanning lamps typically emit more UVA rays and fewer UVB rays.

Vitamin D can be more safely obtained by eating a healthy diet and supplementation if needed. According to the CDC, indoor tanning is estimated to cause about 419,000 cases of skin cancer every year. For comparison, smoking is thought to result in about 226,000 cases of lung cancer every year.

Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer, but early diagnosis gives the best chance for long-term survival.

To find more information on melanoma, go to the NIH website and visit the online booklet "What You Need To Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers," at The book includes melanoma symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and questions to ask doctors.