People know more about skin cancer but aren’t willing to protect themselves
Paul Cronin knows first-hand the dangers of too much sun. Just this week, he had a cancerous growth removed from his ear.
But the welder, who is in his 40s, hasn’t changed his ways. Cronin still doesn’t wear sunscreen or protective clothing out in the sun.
“I’m too lazy to put (sunscreen) on. A lot of guys do, the company supplies it,” he said as he worked outside a Quincy building on a sunny day. “I should be wearing it, but I don’t.”
Cronin’s attitude is shared by a large number of Americans who know what sun damage can do and how to prevent it, but opt for a tan.
A study recently published in the Archives of Dermatology points to an alarming trend. In the study, beachgoers between the ages of 18 and 30 were surveyed about the sun, skin cancer and prevention. Groups of people were interviewed in 1988, 1994 and 2007.
The study showed that while the percentage of beachgoers who understood the link between tanning and skin cancer increased from 42 percent in 1988 to 87 percent in 2007, people who said they looked better with a tan increased from 69 percent in 1994 to 81 percent in 2007.
Even more troubling for dermatologists, the use of indoor tanning beds grew, from 1 percent of those surveyed in 1988 to 27 percent in 2007.
Catie Pratt, 18, is in the sun all day at her job as a lifeguard at Easton town pool. But she splashes on tanning oil, not sunscreen each day.
“I don’t think of what’s happening in the future to my body,” Pratt said. “I just think of now.”
Many people share that “look-good-now” attitude, said Dr. Kenneth Reed, a dermatologist with offices in Quincy and Plymouth. “But what looks good today isn’t going to look good later.”
Having wrinkled, sun-spotted skin isn’t the worst of it. More than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States.
And dermatologists say they are seeing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, in younger and younger patients. Reed has seen it in patients as young as 10.
While information about the damage sun exposure can cause is plentiful, and store racks are overflowing with sunscreen options, people are still resistant to putting what they know to use.
Whenever Brittany Vachon of Quincy goes to the beach, she makes sure her 10-month-old son, Caiden, is slathered in lotion with a sun protection factor of 50.
But she doesn’t use it. “I get brown, I don’t burn. I don’t really think about it,” she said.
It drives dermatologists to distraction.
“There is an epidemic of skin cancers ranging from basal cell to melanoma. ... and it’s largely a result of exposure to the sun and tanning practices,” Reed said.
Patty Sousa of Quincy has been converted. She used to use baby oil to get a good tan. But she started wearing sunscreen daily about five years ago.
Sousa said that as she gets older, she become more aware of what the sun can do to her skin. She also gets regular check-ups at a dermatologist. “I don’t want to get wrinkles,” she said, laughing.
Stephanie Choate may be reached at email@example.com. Additional reporting by Jessica Scarpati for the Brockton Enterprise.
BY THE NUMBERS
Numbers don’t lie: Skin cancer is deadlier and more prevalent today than ever before.
- 1 million: new cases of basal cell or squamous cell cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2007.
- 60,000: new cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States in 2007.
- 75: percent of skin cancer deaths from melanoma.
- 8,420: U.S. deaths from melanoma in 2007 — 5,400 men and 3,020 women.
- 40-50: percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have either basal or squamous cell cancer at least once in their lifetime.
Sources: American Academy of Dermatology, National Cancer Institute
TYPES OF SKIN CANCER
- Basal cell carcinoma is cancer that forms in the small round cells in the base of the outer layer of skin, usually on the face. It often appears as a small raised bump that has a smooth, pearl-like appearance. Another type looks like a scar and is flat and firm to the touch. It is easily treatable if detected early.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that forms in the flat cells that form the surface of the skin. It often appears as a firm red bump. It is also easily treatable if detected early.
- Melanoma is cancer that develops in pigment-producing skin cells. It is the most serious form of skin cancer. A change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area could be a sign of melanoma. If not detected early, it can spread to organs and can be fatal. If melanoma is detected before it spreads, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. Once it has spread, the five-year survival rate drops to 15 percent.
- Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare, aggressive skin cancer that forms on or just under the skin. It appears as a firm, painless lump within the skin that is red, pink or blue-violet. The five-year survival rate is 64 percent.
The following tips can help protect you from skin cancer:
Apply sunscreen daily. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher with both UVA and UVB protection.
Boost your protection. When outdoors for a long period, consider wearing a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 15.
Check the time. Stay out of direct sun when damaging UV rays are the most intense. Avoid outdoor exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.
Cover up. Wear special sun protective clothing designed to inhibit penetration from ultraviolet rays. Clothing is rated by UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor. Clothing can be rated from 15 to 50.
Avoid the salon.Don’t believe the hype that indoor tanning is safe. Men and women exposed to the UV rays at indoor tanning salons have a 15 percent higher risk of developing melanoma than those who did not use tanning beds.
Keep kids safe. Keep babies younger than 6 months of age out of the sun. You can protect babies with clothing, stroller hoods and hats, but be careful when using sunscreens.
Check yourself. Do a monthly self-exam for signs of skin cancer. If you notice a change in a mole or other skin mark, see your physician immediately and have it checked.
Face facts. Don’t forget to protect lips and eyes. Buy sunglasses with both UVA and UVB protection, and use a lip balm with SPF protection.