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For many people, summer fun means getting outside. Trips to the beach, boating and camping, tennis, golf, picnicking, and working in the garden – there are a host of outdoor activities individuals and families enjoy every summer.

As a result, summertime activities often include a lot of time in the sun. Without proper protection, that means exposure to the sun’s damaging rays and an increased risk of skin cancer. Last year it was estimated that one in 50 Americans will develop melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – in their lifetime, according to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. In fact, every hour of every day one American dies from melanoma – that’s almost 10,000 persons per year.

Unfortunately, melanoma is not the only skin cancer – basal and squamous cell cancers are two other prominent types of skin cancer. Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light – sunlight is the main source of UV light, but artificial sources such as tanning beds and tanning lamps are two other culprits.
  • Fair skin — people with fair (light-colored) skin that freckles or burns easily are at extra high risk.
  • Older age — Older people have been exposed to the sun for a longer time and the risk of basal and squamous cell skin cancers in particular goes up as people get older.
  • Radiation — People who have had radiation treatment have a higher risk of getting skin cancer in the area that was treated.
  • Weakened immune system — People with weak immune systems are more likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancer.
  • Genetics — Scientists have found that certain people are more likely than others to develop skin cancer after sun exposure.

Good news: a little prevention goes a long way

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to protect yourself and your family from the sun’s harmful effects. Start with brimmed hats, sunglasses, and lightweight, loose clothing – including shirts with long sleeves and long pants – to cover as much bare skin as possible. Contrary to some popular beliefs, long clothing is not necessarily hotter or more uncomfortable than shorts and short-sleeved or no-sleeve shirts. Lightweight, light-colored, and loose clothing reflect sunlight and act as a barrier between your body and hot weather. That’s why inhabitants of desert environments cover up with layers of light, loose clothing.

Next, add sunscreen. About an ounce, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body. Adjust the amount of sunscreen applied depending on your body size and reapply frequently. Studies continue to show many individuals use sunscreens to stay in the sun longer, thereby increasing their exposure to UV radiation, and the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.  Consequently, it is very important to reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating and to be certain to apply a generous amount.

Don’t be scared. Be prepared.

Despite the warnings about skin cancer, it should be noted that regular exercise, fresh air, sports, and social activities associated with the outdoors contribute significantly to good physical and mental health, so don’t be afraid to go outside. The benefits of an active life outdoors far outweigh the risks of skin cancer – just make sure you cover up and use that sunscreen!

Fitchburg Community Health Center

Community Health Connections fitchburg

326 Nichols Road, Fitchburg, MA
978-878-8100

Gardner Community Health Center

Community Health Connections Gardner

175 Connors Street, Gardner, MA
978-878-8100

Leominster Community Health Center

Community Health Connections Leominster

14 Manning Avenue, Leominster, MA
978-878-8100

ACTION Community Health Center

Community Health Connections Action

130 Water Street, Fitchburg, MA
978-878-8100

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