My kids finished up their school year today. Ideally, this means they'll be spending more time outside in the sun - which means: sunscreen. My wife and I are adamant that our kids wear sunscreen.
Listen up: I'd like to ask you to always wear sunscreen when you're out in the elements. If you have kids, please force them to wear sunscreen (don't give them an option, and get them to develop the habit early).
You see, 6 years ago this month, I was diagnosed with skin cancer - malignant melanoma. Melanoma accounts for about 4% of skin cancer cases, but it causes about 79% of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma is a scary type of cancer because it spreads so quickly - but treatment is quite successful if you catch it early. The farther along the cancer is when you find it, the lower your odds of living for more than 5 years, as this table shows:
5-year relative survival rate
90% to 95%
85% to 44%
This is one time procrastination will not do you any favors. I was lucky - I was at Stage I when I was diagnosed and treated. Since my skin cancer, a rogue mole, hadn't spread or gotten too deep, they were able to cut it out.
I have a pretty gnarly scar right in the middle of my chest where they removed the cancer. It's pretty large since they also have to remove "clear margins," which means they remove all skin within 1 inch of the cancer site. One inch around, and one inch deep. Not fun, but it beats the alternative.
I've made it past 5 years, obviously, so I'm in good shape. Nonetheless, I am a high-risk subject for skin cancer. And I've left that nifty legacy to my kids, so they are automatically at high risk.
Did you know that your skin is the largest organ in your body? It's true. And, did you know that any sunburns you experience as a child are believed to increase your risk of skin cancer for the rest of your life?
Skin cancer is treatable, but the best news is that it's preventable. Start with prevention, which involves wearing sunscreen and hats to protect your skin, and wearing UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes (yes, the sun can cause cancer in your eyes). Sunscreen is cheap and easy to find, and you should wear SPF 30 or better.
And, by the way, you can get sunburned even when it's cloudy - better safe than sorry.
Tomorrow, I'll write about what to watch for so you can recognize skin cancer. Meanwhile, if you're curious, you can find out more at the American Cancer Society's web site.