Skin cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in the U.S. An estimated 100,350 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—in 2020. In Maryland alone, an estimated 1,780 will be diagnosed this year. Most cases are caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, which means many skin cancers can be prevented.
Exposure to UV rays from the sun or from artificial sources, such as tanning beds, can increase your risk of skin cancer as well as other health problems, such as sunburns, premature aging, eye problems, and a weakened immune system.
Skin cancer can affect anyone—not just women, not just those with fair skin, and not just adults. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer than women. According to the American Cancer Society, rates are higher in women than in men before age 50, but by age 65, rates in men are double those in women. By age 80, they are triple. Over their lifetimes, men tend to spend more time outdoors, often in situations where they aren’t thinking about sun protection—doing their jobs, doing yard work or attending sporting events. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that when outside on a sunny day for more than an hour, only about 14% of men use sunscreen on their face and other exposed skin.
All adults should practice sun safety for themselves and as role models for their children. According to the CDC, more than half of a person’s lifetime UV exposure typically occurs during childhood and adolescence, so protection at a young age is critically important.
Although people with fair skin, light eyes and blond or red hair are at greater risk, those with darker skin can still develop skin cancer. People of color are often diagnosed later, when the cancer has progressed, and often face socioeconomic barriers to screening and treatment that leads to lower survival rates. Public education for people of all skin types, including information about skin cancers in areas not exposed to the sun (such as palms of hands and soles of feet) should be expanded, along with access to affordable care.
Practice sun safety every day. Even if you are just going outside for a walk or doing yard work, take precautions to protect your skin. Apply broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, wear hats, sunglasses, long sleeves and pants. If possible, avoid the sun when UV rays are most dangerous—between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. To learn more, visit www.preventcancer.org/skincancer.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society and the CDC.