Living at the coast, most of us know the joys of being outside in the sunshine. But we don’t always remember how important it is to slather on the sunscreen.
“My best friend was 23 when she passed away two weeks ago from melanoma, skin cancer. She was 17 when she was first diagnosed, but 23 when she passed away,” said Jenn Corson.
Jennifer Shoe had a small discolored mole on her chest that rapidly developed into skin cancer. She, like many teens, frequented tanning beds in high school. Surgical Oncologist Dr. Kotwall said, “For young women, in their twenties to 35, unfortunately, it’s one of the leading causes of cancer deaths.”
The problem is not limited to women. “All my life, I spent a lot of time at the beach, and I’d wear sunscreens but I’d wear like 10, sometimes nothing at all, just the oil and try to tan,” said skin cancer survivor Thomas Heffernan. “And the thing was we had to have a tan, it’s the summertime, you have to look good when you go to the beach or when you go to the pool. I probably was my own worst enemy.”
Last year, a mole under Thomas’ arm turned out to be stage four skin cancer. But he was fortunate, after two surgeries and treatment, he was pronounced cancer free.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US, striking one million Americans each year. Some people think SPF 4 is enough, but doctors disagree. They say you need to use at least SPF 30, and the key is to reapply every couple of hours.
Doctor Kotwall says skin cancer is very treatable if it is caught early on. He says keep an eye on moles that have a dark center, irregular border, or that change over time. If it looks abnormal, get it checked out. “Listen to your spouse, or your girlfriend or boyfriend, and if they see something that’s different and they keep nagging you, they’re doing it to help you, and then go see somebody,” said Kotwall.
Some like Thomas are lucky, but as a cancer survivor there is one lesson learned. “Wear some sunscreen. I can say that now, but I didn’t do it when I was younger. But I wish I had,” Heffernan said.
Corson said, “She’s no longer with us because of it. It’s really important to wear your sunscreen, just plain and simple. Silly as that sounds, as much as you hear it and as often as you hear it, it’s so important.”
Dermatologists say a good sunscreen contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as its main ingredient. They also recommend wearing a hat and sunglasses, and staying out of the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.