By Marcie Birk, Health Educator, U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive MedicineJune 16, 2009
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. According to the Mayo Clinic, more than a million skin cancers are diagnosed annually. The number of cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is increasing faster than almost any other cancer. In 1930, Americans had a 1 in 1,500 lifetime chance of developing melanoma. By 2000, this chance had risen to 1 in 90.
This dramatic rise in skin cancer is due to increased leisure time and more recreational sun exposure. Although most occupational exposure to the sun has decreased, Soldiers are typically exposed to more sunlight than someone with an indoor occupation. Unit and individual physical training, training exercises, and mission-essential tasks frequently occur outdoors. Soldiers with certain Military Occupational Specialties, such as combat arms, spend long periods of time outdoors year-round. And current operations in theater may require Soldiers to be frequently outdoors. This increased sun exposure can increase the risk for skin cancer.
On the job, Soldiers can take measures to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun. Use your uniform to cover your arms and legs. A wide-brimmed hat can protect the head and neck. If possible, seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And use a sunblock with a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and reapply every two hours at minimum.
Soldiers and their families should also protect themselves from the sun during recreational and family activities. Make sure to reapply sunblock after swimming or exertion. And don't be fooled into thinking you don't need sunblock when it's cloudy-up to 80 percent of the sun's harmful rays make their way through light cloud cover; 60 percent through heavy cloud cover. Sunburns can also occur during the winter, especially when there is snow on the ground. The take-home message: use sunblock whenever you are going to be outside.
Some people avoid using sunblock because they don't like the way it feels or smells. Soldiers may feel that using sunblock isn't HOOAH. But consider this fact: One in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime. And sunblock is one of the most effective ways to protect your skin from the sun. Here are some excuses people use to avoid sunblock use, and how to solve the issues they raise:
Excuse: "Sunblocks smell flowery and feminine."
Answer: Buy unscented formulations. They are just as effective without the scent.
Excuse: "The oily base makes my skin feel greasy."
Answer: Water- or alcohol-based lotions, creams, gels and sprays actually outnumber oil-based products. Try different types and brands to find out what feels right for you.
Excuse: "They make my hands slippery."
Answer: Try a sport sunscreen. They're designed to absorb quickly, without leaving a greasy or sticky residue.
Excuse: "When I sweat, the stuff runs into my eyes and stings."
Answer: Use a stick sunscreen on your forehead and around your eyes. It's easy to apply and stays put even when you sweat or swim. Never put sunscreen directly on the eye area. Protect the skin around your eyes with sunglasses instead.
To learn more about protecting yourself from the dangers of unprotected sun exposure, go to:
Aca,!Ac "Protecting Yourself in the Sun," (www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3166.pdf)
Aca,!Ac National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/skin/patient
Aca,!Ac National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, http://www.skincancerprevention.org/
Aca,!Ac Skin Cancer Foundation, http://www.skincancer.org/Skin-Cancer/2008-Skin-Cancer-Facts.html