Dr. Campbell: Sunscreen not enough to prevent cancer

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. today and this year, approximately 76,100 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, will be diagnosed.

Since exposure to ultraviolet light – from the sun and tanning beds – is a major risk factor for melanoma, wearing sunscreen is top of the list as a prevention aid.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common type of cancer in the USA is skin cancer – the two most common being basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer.

Melanoma is a major concern in the U.S., with rates of the disease increasing for at least three decades. It’s the most deadly form of skin cancer and accounts for 10,000 deaths annually. The best way to prevent skin cancer in general is to cover up in the sun, as well as wear sunscreen on exposed areas of skin.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer – one of the rarer types – but the cause of most skin cancer-related deaths. Malignant melanoma is caused by an uncontrolled growth of skin pigment cells (melancytes).

Seventy-five percent of all skin cancer deaths are from malignant melanoma. It is most commonly found among fair-skinned people. However, people of all skin types can get it.

Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun’s UV radiation from reaching the skin. Two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, damage the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB.

Ultraviolet A (UVA) is the longer wave UV ray that causes lasting skin damage, skin aging, and can cause skin cancer. Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the shorter wave UV ray that causes sunburns, skin damage, and can cause skin cancer.

Both types of UV light exposure can result in cancer.  Cancer of the skin occurs when the genetic code or DNA of skin cells is damaged by UV light—this damage can result in mutations that can cause uncontrolled growth of a particular cell type—cancer.

On June 14, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its rules for sunscreen labels, enabling consumers to more easily identify sunscreens that offer safe and effective protection from the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Based on these regulations, sunscreens may be labeled “broad-spectrum” if they provide protection against both UVA and UVB radiation according to FDA-sanctioned test methods.

Only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher may state that they help protect against skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures.

Sunscreen alone is not enough to protect your skin. It’s essential to practice smart sun safety habits, whether at home or while on vacation and take care not to burn – sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer.

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention recommends seeking shade when the sun is at its strongest and wearing sun-protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat, wrap-on sunglasses and a T-shirt.  Avoid sun exposure in the heat of the day—from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when UV exposure risk is at its highest.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter. If there’s a topic you’d like to see Dr. Campbell cover, let us know by sending an email to newstips@wncn.com.

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