First of all, let me mention that I am trained as a specialist in Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. In my 15 years in my profession, I have seen A LOT of cancers of the head and neck. These have included 1/2 centimeter squamous cell cancers that after complete removal left a defect the size of a quarter on the forehead, cheek or nose that then needed to be repaired with rotation flaps, and 1/2 centimeter melanomas that required removing a portion of the nose including the skin, cartilages and bone and reconstructing the defect using microvascular reconstruction using muscle flaps and skin grafts.
I was inspired to write this blog in response to ongoing questions that patients, friends and audience members at seminars in which I have spoken, ask about sunscreen use in Western Washington. I am not as surprised as I used to be when patients who came to discuss and undergo rejuvenation treatments to improve aging changes in their skin tell me they do not use sunscreen or that they occasionally or frequently go to a tanning parlor.
In our counseling before, during and after treatments, the providers at SkinMD review and emphasize that the number 1 treatment and protection to ward of aging changes in the skin, and maintain results we have achieved is the DAILY use of a UVA and UVB broad spectrum sunscreen. My mantra is 7/365 sunscreen. We also discuss best times to go out in the sun to play and the use of sun protecting gear. Wide brim hats, long sleeves, long pants, etc
Last week, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) singled out our state of Washington for a program in sun-safety education. Why you ask? After all, we do not get as much sun as California or Texas. It is because, unfortunately, Washington has the fifth-highest rate of melanoma, and the seventh-highest death rate from this deadly skin cancer. The melanoma rates among whites were higher in Washington State than among whites nationally.
It is a common misperception that Eastern Washingtonians are responsible for the melanoma rates. Not true. According to the numbers collected by the Washington State Cancer Registry, several Western Washington counties account for the highest melanoma rates. These include Clark, Jefferson, Kitsap, San Juan and Whatcom counties.
What can we learn from this? The daily use of a broad spectrum sunscreen and wearing protective clothing can not be over stated. The reality is that even the best sunscreen does not BLOCK all of the sun’s rays from affecting our skin. Most of us do not apply sufficient sunscreen to provide adequate protection from the get go, nor do we cover all sun-exposed skin, or reapply our sunscreen every two hours as recommended.
Scientists have shown that about 10 minutes of incidental sun per day on your arms and legs is sufficient to give you plenty of vitamin D. Please remember that vitamin D is plentiful in our food supply whether you are a traditional or organic consumer. These include natural sources like salmon, tuna, mackerel, fish liver oils, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and some mushroom varieties. Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet. Milk, cereal flours, some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and soy milk. Some calcium fortified fruit juices and drinks contain vitamin D as well.
To summarize, when it comes to skin cancer, an ounce….or two of prevention/protection is better than a big scar and years of surveillance or worse death.