Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause sunburn, premature skin ageing, eye damage and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and it’s also one of the most preventable.
Rates of skin cancer are rising in British Columbia. About 1 in 7 people living in B.C. will develop skin cancer over their lifetime.
Lifetime exposure to UV radiation is a contributing factor to many skin cancer diagnoses. Sun safety for kids is especially important. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, later in life.
Putting on sunscreen may come to mind before hitting the beach or bike trail on a sunny day. But, there is more that you can do to protect yourself and reduce your risk of sunburn.
- Check the UV Index before planning your outdoor activities. On days when the UV Index reaches 3 (moderate) or more, take precautions especially when near sand, snow and water, which can nearly double UV strength.
- Limit your time in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense. If possible, look for shaded areas such as under trees, umbrellas or awnings. If your shadow is shorter than you, seek shade because this means the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
- Cover up the arms and legs with dark, tightly woven clothing, and wear a wide-brimmed hat that protects your face, neck and ears.
- Slide on some UV-blocking sunglasses, goggles or safety glasses. The label might have “UV 400” or “100% UV protection.” For more protection, opt for glasses in a wraparound style that protect both the front and the side of your eyes.
- Apply sunscreen and lip balm with a SPF of 30 or greater. Look for products that are “broad-spectrum” to protect your skin against both UVA and UVB rays. Use a shot glass sized amount for head-to-toe protection. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours or after sweating or swimming.
The key is to enjoy the sun sensibly, finding a balance between sun protection and those great outdoor activities like swimming, hiking and beach volleyball.
Anyone can burn and anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of skin colour.
The prime cause of skin cancer is sun exposure. This has serious implications for construction workers, farmers and others who spend much of their working hours outdoors. Often this exposure happens during those times in the day when UV radiation is at its strongest, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. As a result, outdoor workers have a 2.5 to 3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer compared to indoor workers.
People who are fair skinned, have light coloured eyes or hair, are freckled, burn easily or have a lot of moles on their skin have a higher risk of getting skin cancer. While people with darker skin tones have greater protection against sunburn, they can still develop skin cancer. In fact, skin cancer can be even more dangerous in people of colour, as it’s often diagnosed in the later stages, when it’s harder to treat. This can be deadly when the person has melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can spread quickly.
Aside from complexion, other risk factors include:
- Chronic (long-term) sun exposure;
- A family history or personal history of skin cancer;
- A history of sunburns; and,
- Living in a sunny or high-altitude region, both of which expose you to more UV radiation.
Skin cancer, unlike many cancers, usually begins where you can see it. This means it’s actually one of the easiest cancers to find.
You can get skin cancer anywhere on your skin—from your scalp to the soles of your feet. Even if the area gets little sun, it’s possible for skin cancer to develop there.
It’s a good idea to check your skin regularly so you get to know what your moles look like and if they are changing in colour, shape or size. If any of your moles concern you, talk to your health care provider. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.