There is nothing that feels better than lying in a lounge chair, on a beach, soaking up the sun. The more time in the sun the better. I was a sun worshiper for decades. I was in the sun everywhere from Saint Lucia, Boston, New York and Jamaica. If I had a few weeks or months to live, I would spend it out there, tanning. But I stopped being out there tanning when I moved from the Northeast to Florida in 1994.
What Puts You At Risk For Skin Cancer?
When I was 49, I found out that my sister, mother and father all had skin cancer. This was before I became a nurse (BSN, MSN, PhD) in 1999. Going to nursing school in Florida, you cannot avoid the topic of skin cancer because your skin is your largest and most important organ.
But I knew a family history of skin cancer wasn’t good even before I went to nursing school, because I spent a decade doing insurance and reinsurance rate making and reserving and before that I was a bio-statistician. I have a very good understanding of health risks and health insurance as a nurse, actuary and bio-statistician.
If winning the triple crown is great, having both parents and your only sibling diagnosed and treated for skin cancer is like the Trifecta of Doom. Some of the risks of skin cancer are simple: A parent or a sibling with skin cancer increases your risk. Being pasty white increases your risk of skin cancer, and tanning to get your skin tan is the worst thing you can do.
Natural blonde, or natural red hair usually increases your risk of skin cancer. Exposure to sun increases your risk. Sun-tanning, whether outside or in a tanning booth, increases your risk. Tanning booths are not safe ways to tan. Many tanning booths carry far greater risks of skin cancer than natural sunlight.
My problem, and the problem for my parents and sister, was that we all tanned really well. We looked great when we had tans and we felt great.
Skin Cancer Risk
As a nurse I am very interested in how people can avoid becoming ill. Some health promotion and disease prevention strategies are easy and some are very hard. The hardest avoidance strategies are those we do not know are necessary. In the 1930s, factory workers did not know that working in factories with asbestos fibers saturating the air was bad. They just worked in such environments for decades. Coal miners did the same thing in coal mines, breathing in heavily polluted air, deep in mines.
Long before actuaries and bio-statisticians started noticing the financial consequences of workers compensation insurance, workers exposed to asbestos and coal dust knew that older workers got sick. Decades later, actuaries adjusted insurance premiums to better reflect the risks of respiratory illness, charging far higher premiums to employers with workers in factories with asbestos, coal mines and for people who smoked cigarettes.
Skin Cancer Prevention
Skin cancer prevention is simple, but it is by no means easy. The cardinal rules of skin cancer prevention include:
- Stay out of the sun
- If you cannot avoid being in the sun, use skin cancer prevention lotions with SPF greater than 30 and re-apply every two hours, after swimming, after toweling and if you are sweating. Skin lotions are NOT apply once measures.
- Block the sun – I only wear short sleeve shirts when I am indoors and I wear gloves when driving in the sun.
- I do my best to wear hats that protect my scalp and face from sun exposure.
- If you observe moles or changes in your skin, see a dermatologist. If there are opportunities for having a skin cancer screen – take them.
- Avoid use of harsh chemicals, petrochemicals and cleaning products by avoiding them altogether or by wearing gloves to protect your skin.
Be good to your skin – it is your largest organ and it protects you 24/7/365.