Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Skin protection a must during summer months

Poolsides on hot summer days in Denver are lined with lounge chairs and occupants lying in the sun. Days at the pool can bring relaxation and fun but can also bring along a hazardous side effect — skin damage.

According to Lakewood, Colo., dermatologist and former DU health clinic specialist Kathleen Sawada, young people need to be aware of the immediate effects of sun damage.

“If young people want to think about investing for the future, invest in sun protection now,” Sawada says. “Just because they are young does not mean they are invincible.”

Sawada is not the only one concerned about getting the word out about skin cancer — the most common type of cancer. DU has joined the American Cancer Society’s Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) and created its own chapter, becoming a part of a network of 50 other colleges promoting healthy lifestyles to guard against cancer. 

Skin cancer is most commonly divided into two groups — melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanomas, the two most common cancers, are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. These primarily appear in areas of the skin that are the most exposed to the sun and appear due to sun exposure.

Melanoma or “mole cancer,” is much less common than non-melanoma but can be far more serious. Sawada wants to get the word out, especially to young people, that melanoma is not something to be taken lightly.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the incidence of melanoma in Colorado is nearly 30 percent higher than in other states, and it continues to rise. In Colorado, UV radiation increases 10–12 percent every 3,000 feet in elevation. The CDPHE reports that in Colorado, the cumulative lifetime risk of melanoma is 1 in 33 for males and 1 in 62 for females.

Certain risk factors such as fair skin, family history or unprotected exposure to UV radiation can make someone more susceptible to developing skin cancer. 

“Melanoma is the skin cancer that can kill,” Sawada says.

DU’s Health and Counseling Center offers tips on how to stay safe in the sun:
•    Limit direct sun exposure during midday
•    Wear a hat and clothing that protects as much skin as possible
•    Use sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher
•    Wear sunglasses that block UV rays
•    Check your skin regularly for abnormal changes

Inevitably, people will be out in the sun this summer. One way to begin blocking the sun’s harmful rays is to remember to take a “healthy shot.”

“A shot glass worth of sunscreen is needed to cover the whole body of exposed skin,” Sawada says.

For more about skin cancer and prevention, visit the Skin Cancer FoundationPlay Safe in the Sun and Sun Safe Colorado.

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