What do actor Hugh Jackman, former first lady Laura Bush and musician Bob Marley have in common? They all battled skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., transcending gender, ethnicity and age. There are more occurrences of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. And one American dies from melanoma — the deadliest form of the disease — every hour.
To raise awareness, the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention (NCSCP) designated the Friday before Memorial Day as “Don’t Fry Day.” Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer, a time when millions of Americans hit the beach to start working on their tans, which many associate with health and beauty.
But according to Dr. Mofid, there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. “Tanned skin is a result of damage to skin cells,” she says. “Five sunburns during the course of a lifetime doubles your risk of developing skin cancer. That’s why skin protection is so important, particularly in young children, so they don’t develop skin cancer later in life.”
Health risks, however, often give way to societal pressure. “We need to get to a place where tanning on the beach is not cool. Our societal perception of tanning is parallel to how people used to view smoking. Everyone did it. Smoking was the cool thing to do — until it wasn’t,” says Dr. Mofid.
The NCSCP says exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, tanning beds, fair skin and older age all increase a person’s chance for skin cancer.
In pursuit of the perfect tan, many young women turn to tanning beds. As a result, melanoma occurrences have skyrocketed and are the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30. “One solitary tanning session increases risk of skin cancer by 67 percent,” says Dr. Mofid.
She also points out that skin cancer isn’t limited to fair-skinned people and touches every ethnicity.
“Bob Marley had a dark complexion, but lost a four-year battle with melanoma that started on his toe. Also in the Hispanic population, rates of melanoma have increased by approximately 19 percent over the past few decades,” she says.
Skin cancer is largely preventable. To protect your skin, Dr. Mofid offers these 7 tips:
- Wear sunscreen every day.
- Select a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above. Make sure the label says broad-spectrum to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and apply generously.
- Be extra diligent about protecting your skin between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Water, humidity and sweating decrease the effectiveness of sunscreen so reapply often.
- For kids, apply sunscreen before going outside to prevent exposure before application. Even water-resistant sunscreens wear off, so reapply often.
- Wear protective clothing, including a rash guard, a hat that shades your ears and neck, and a shirt with sleeves to cover your arms.
- Have your skin checked annually and tell your doctor if you have changes in any moles.
For the media: To talk with Dr. Mofid about skin cancer and sun protection, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.