May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office
In Germany, with roughly the same number of sunny days per year as legendarily dreary Seattle, it may be easy to forget about the risk of skin cancer and other ailments associated with overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. But according to the National Cancer Institute, even indirect sunlight, over time, can increase the risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. UV radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer, but it can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps.
More than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually. The good news is that skin cancer can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early.
Early detection of melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, can save your life. Make sure you check your skin once a month for changes. A new or changing mole should be evaluated by a dermatologist.
Even better than early detection, however, is taking steps to reduce your exposure to harmful UV rays in the first place. Even on completely cloudy days, 40 percent of the sun’s UV rays pass through cloud cover. This means you could be exposing yourself to UV rays and the long-term risks they create, even if you don’t feel any sunburn at all.
Take simple steps today to protect your skin.
Do not burn
Sunburns significantly increase one’s lifetime risk of developing skin cancer, especially for children.
Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds
UV radiation from tanning beds and the sun causes skin cancer and wrinkling. Avoid tanning beds, and minimize exposure to the sun whenever possible. Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Generously apply sunscreen
Use sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor 15 or higher. Put on sunscreen every two hours and after you swim or sweat. Generously apply about one ounce of sunscreen to cover all exposed skin 15 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen should have a SPF of at least 30 and provide broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
Wear protective clothing
Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible.
Seek shade when possible, and remember that the sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Use extra caution near water, snow and sand
Water, snow and sand reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
Get Vitamin D safely
Get Vitamin D safely through a diet that includes vitamin supplements and foods fortified with Vitamin D. Don’t seek the sun.
Frequently Asked Questions
SPF 100 sunscreen must be better than SPF 30, right?
Not necessarily. The actual protection from the sun maxes out at about SPF 45. There are incremental increases in protection, but for all practical purposes, sunscreen above SPF 45 is all the same. What’s more important is applying it correctly according to the directions on the label. According to the National Cancer Institute, people very commonly don’t apply enough sunscreen.
Are tanning beds safer than lying out in the sun?
No. Tanning beds use the same UV rays as the sun to achieve their effect so you are still exposing yourself to excessive UV light.
Why should I bother with self examinations?
Detecting skin cancer early through self-examination is the best way to decrease the chance of the cancer spreading or becoming more dangerous. Skin cancer is curable in almost all cases if detected early, according to the National Cancer Institute.
It’s not that sunny here in Germany — do I really need sunscreen if it’s cloudy?
Yes. Studies indicate that clouds diffuse visible light at a much higher rate than they do UV radiation, which means that even on days when it is cloudy and does not seem bright to the eyes, the skin is being exposed to damaging UV rays. Even on a completely cloudy day, 40 percent of UV rays pass through the cloud cover, according to the National Institute of Cancer. This can create serious risk because people may be exposed to those UV rays for longer periods since they don’t detect any sunburn. As far as UV exposure, spending the whole day outside on a cloudy day is comparable to lying in the sun for several hours.