Too much sun exposure may lead to skin cancer

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Sun has good qualities, but too much may lead to skin cancer



Summer has finally arrived, and with it comes yard work, ball games and trips to the beach.

Sun exposure has its advantages. For many, it’s a pleasurable experience that brightens their day. For some people it helps reduce mood problems and depression. Sun exposure also assists our internal clock to regulate our sleep system and our alertness rhythm.

Sun exposure is also good for the bones. Vitamin D is needed for the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus in the body, which in turn affects how calcium is deposited in the bones. The major source of vitamin D for humans is exposure to sun, thus people who spend adequate amounts of time in the sun do not need dietary Vitamin D intake.

Good moods, good sleep, good bones – what could be wrong with a nice day of basking in the warm sun?

Too much sun, especially at an early age, can be detrimental to our skin. Overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays during childhood has been linked to skin cancer and other cancers later in life.

Prolonged or excessive sun exposure can also lead to “photoaging,” damage that accumulates in the skin from years of excessive and chronic sun exposure. Photoaging creates changes in the skin’s appearance, giving it a mottled pigmentation, surface roughness, fine wrinkles, “age” or “liver” spots on the hands, dilated blood vessels. In addition, skin becomes less elastic and drier, the underlying fat padding begins to disappear and the skin begins to sag. But looking older and wrinkled is the least of our problems; chronic sun exposure is a major risk factor for skin cancers.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and new cases of skin cancer are estimated to exceed one million per year. While anyone can get skin cancer, persons with certain characteristics are at particular risk. Those who sunburn readily and tan poorly (redheaded, blond, and fair-skinned persons who freckle or burn easily) are at higher risk for skin cancer.

Melanoma, the third most common type of skin cancer, is one of the most common cancers among young adults. A substantial percentage of lifetime sun exposure occurs before age 20, and UV radiation exposure during childhood and adolescence plays an important role in the development of skin cancer. Since 1973, new cases of melanoma have increased by approximately 150 percent.

So, does all this bad news about sun exposure mean we should stay indoors on those bright sunny days? Of course not, but what it does mean is that we have to take measures to decrease the risks of cancers and other sun-related skin problems.

Skin protection is imperative, so wear sunscreen and stay in the shade whenever possible. Those who live where the climate is sunny should wear sunscreen every day – whatever the season. Hats with wide brims are also a must, as is avoiding the sun’s strongest rays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Steer clear of tanning beds, as well. They do the same damage as the sun, only through a different process. The American Academy of Dermatology has equated 20 minutes on a tanning bed to spending a day at the beach.

So when you grab your golf clubs, grab a hat and sunscreen. It’s going to be a great summer!


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