Fight Sun Exposure Risk

Outside workers worry about machines and noise more than sunscreen, but too much sun increases risk for skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the U.S. The best way to fight back is to protect yourself from overexposure.

Focus article photo

Most outdoor workers aren’t aware that skin cancer is the single most common form of cancer in the United States, accounting for more than 75 percent of all cancer diagnoses.

Most people know that too much sun isn't a good thing, but people take chances all the time: most of the road crew working on a sunny day won't be wearing hats; at a construction site you'll see more hard hats than long-sleeved shirts to protect exposed skin; and a farmer cutting hay will wear hearing protection, but only a thin t-shirt on his back. Using sunscreen is low on the list of job-site safety precautions for many—if it's on the list at all.

Job-site safety risk: sun exposure?

Too much sun exposure can cause premature aging of the skin, eye damage, and cancer. Even on cloudy days, ultraviolet rays (UVR) can be harmful, and the negative effects of UVR accumulate over a lifetime. Many who spend their day outside seem unconcerned—to some the danger of injuries from machinery seems more serious than cancer risk.

Vermont and New Hampshire: highest melanoma rates

Most outdoor workers aren't aware that skin cancer is the single most common form of cancer in the United States, accounting for more than 75 percent of all cancer diagnoses. To bring it closer to home: Vermont had the highest rate of new melanoma diagnoses in the U.S. from 2001-2005 (63 percent higher than the national average), and New Hampshire had the second highest rate of new melanoma diagnoses in the U.S. from 2001-2005 (61 percent higher than the national average).

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 76,690 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2013, and about 9,480 people are expected to die of melanoma (about 6,280 men and 3,200 women).

Those who know these statistics might think twice about their aversion to sticky sunscreen lotions and bulky protective clothing.

Source: EPA & CDC

Wear sunscreen, long sleeves, sunglasses, and a hat

Overexposure to the sun is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Not all melanomas can be prevented, but you can lower your risk of getting skin cancer through less exposure and protecting your skin while in the sun.

Still, studies in Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts& Figures 2013 show that only 32.1 percent of adults reported always or often using sunscreen when outside for an hour or more on a warm, sunny day in the past 12 months, and even fewer adults reported using hats (12.8 percent) or long-sleeved shirts (11.5 percent).

To help people understand how easy it is to lower melanoma risk, The American Cancer Society has an awareness campaign that simplifies sun exposure precautions. The phrase"Slip! Slop! Slap!… and Wrap" helps you remember some of the key steps you can take:

  • Slip on a shirt.
  • Slop on sunscreen.
  • Slap on a hat.
  • Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them.

The National Cancer Institute offers some more detailed steps:

  • Avoid outdoor activities during the middle of the day (10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) when the sun's rays are the strongest.
  • Protect yourself from the sun's rays reflected by sand, water, snow, ice, and pavement. The sun's rays can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds.Ÿ
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants. Tightly woven fabrics are best.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim all around that shades your face, neck, and ears. Keep in mind that baseball caps and some sun visors protect only parts of your skin.Ÿ
  • Wear sunglasses that absorb UV radiation to protect the skin around your eyes.
  • Use sunscreen lotions with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. (Some doctors will suggest using a lotion with an SPF of at least 30.) Apply the product's recommended amount to uncovered skin 30 minutes before going outside, and apply again every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
  • Sunscreen lotions may help prevent some skin cancers. It's important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion that filters both UVB and UVA radiation. But you still need to avoid the sun during the middle of the day and wear clothing to protect your skin
What if I am diagnosed with melanoma?

May is Melanoma Awareness month, and dermatologists at Norris Cotton Cancer center hope to bring added attention to the importance of sun protection and annual skin checks while launching a new resource for patients. The DHMC Department of Dermatology will partner with Norris Cotton Cancer Center for a month-long Interdisciplinary Melanoma Clinic.

Patients with newly diagnosed melanoma will be seen at the Dermatology office at Dartmouth- Hitchcock on Heater Road in Lebanon, N.H. On the day of the clinic, patients will have consecutive appointments with Dermatology and Hematology-Oncology. Following this comprehensive exam, patients will have a consult with Surgery at the main campus, and treatment options will be reviewed at a multidisciplinary tumor board. (The melanoma tumor board includes a dermatologist, hematologist-oncologist, radiation-oncologist, general surgeon, nursing staff, and social worker. Together the group formulates a treatment plan based on evidence-based practices and emerging therapies available through clinical trials more here.)

These other web resources may also help:

April 30, 2013