From boardwalks, birdwatching, crabbing and camping to farm markets, fishing and more, Cape May County offers so many unique options for residents and visitors. It abounds with incredible year-round outdoor fun activities, including hiking, biking, and walking trails; outdoor shopping and dining; water sports; festivals and concerts; and much more. And of course, in addition to leisurely time, many people—including those in construction, landscaping, lifeguarding, and other roles—work outdoors. With outdoor experiences comes a serious risk—damage to your skin, and a potential threat to your life later on.
AtlantiCare is seeing increasing numbers of individuals with skin cancer at our Cancer Care Institute’s Cape May Court House and Egg Harbor Township locations.
Donna is a patient my colleagues and I recently treated for skin cancer. She was 76 when her dermatologist referred her to us for her radiation treatment for skin cancer. A lifelong lover of Jersey Shore activities, Donna was part of a family of beachgoers. When she was young, neither Donna nor her parents used sunscreen. This was common for the times. In fact, “sunscreen” wasn’t much of a thing a few decades ago—sun products were marketed as “suntan lotion” and most brands had very low sun protection factors (SPF). Donna said she occasionally used baby oil on her skin before heading outside, another common practice at the time that increases the skin’s exposure to harmful UV rays.
Today, Donna—who has added golfing to her list of favorite outdoor activities—is much more aware of the risks that come with her history of unprotected sun exposure as well as her current time outdoors. She’s committed to having annual skin cancer screenings. That’s why she and her dermatologist detected her skin cancer early. Donna is also a champion of safe sun practices among her family, friends, and fellow golfers.
“I was already steadfast about getting screenings, but my AtlantiCare experience validated just how valuable my vigilance about my health is,” Donna told me. “From the time I walked in for each treatment to the time I left, I had such a good feeling.”
Having cared for individuals with cancer for more than 27 years, including patients like Donna who I see in our Cape May Court House location, I’m avid about protecting people from skin cancer. My care frequently starts with my team and me pointing out common myths and misperceptions.
MYTH 1—Not many people get skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers.
MYTH 2—Skin cancer isn’t dangerous. The American Cancer Society also tells us that while melanoma accounts for about 1% of skin cancers—a number that is on the rise in recent years—it causes a majority of skin cancer deaths. Left untreated, it can destroy healthy tissue and bone and spread to the lymph nodes.
MYTH 3—If you get a tan and don’t burn, or if you are dark-skinned‚ you won’t get skin cancer. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV rays. A tan is your skin’s reaction to UV rays. Though people with pale skin are generally at risk greater for skin cancer, even those with darker skin are at risk.
MYTH 4—If you’re young you cannot get skin cancer. Melanoma can grow rapidly and become life-threating in as few as six weeks. People under age 20 have been treated for it, and the risk of melanoma and all skin cancers increases the older you get.
MYTH 5—If you don’t have a family history of skin cancer, you’re safe. Family history—including having certain types of moles, or skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun—is a risk factor. But even those without family history can be at risk for melanoma and other skin cancers.
MYTH 6—A person is protected if they use a tanning salon instead of spending time outdoors. Tanning beds and booths and sunlamps are equally dangerous—if not more so.
Myth 7—You only need sunscreen in the summer and then only if the sun is shining. Cloudy days can actually be more dangerous for your skin.
We encourage you to follow these golden rules of sun safety:
· Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and wear protective clothing any time you are outdoors, all year long, whether it’s sunny or cloudy.
· Reapply sunscreen regularly if you sweat or get wet.
· Don’t smoke cigarettes or use e-cigarettes. Both can contribute to the development of skin cancer.
· Get annual skin and overall wellness screenings. Tell your healthcare provider about unusual moles or changes in your skin during or between those visits.
If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, remember, quick action can be a lifesaver. Our AtlantiCare Cancer Care Institute team offers the most advanced technology and innovative approaches to treating skin cancers and other cancers. For more information, visit atlanticare.org/cancercare or call 1-888-569-1000.
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