The sun. It may be almost 93 million miles away, but the energy it emits from the center of our solar system is vital to every living thing on Earth. No sun—no life. Even the ancients were awed by the sun’s power. They gave it the status of a god: the sun was Sol to the Romans, Helios to the Greeks, and Ra to the Egyptians.

Today we know quite a lot more about the sun. It’s actually a star, a whirling, gaseous, spherical, fiery mass held together by its own gravity. The light and energy it emits take eight minutes to reach us across the vast darkness of space. Along with life-giving heat and light, the sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

UV radiation can damage human skin and cause cancer. People with fair skin, blond or red hair and light eyes face the highest risk of skin cancer from exposure to the sun, but anyone can get it, even those with very dark skin. People whose relatives have had skin cancer, people who sunburned as children or teen-agers, and those who work outdoors or live in sunny climates also have a higher risk of skin cancer.  Clouds provide little protection from UV rays, and winter exposure can be as damaging as that in the summer. And remember that tanning beds, booths and sun lamps all emit UV rays, as well. Avoid them.

All cancers are normal cells that start reproducing abnormally. Benign cancers don’t spread. Malignant cancers are those that spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests several actions you can take to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays when you’re outdoors:

· Apply sun protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher sunscreen lotion, cream or spray 30 minutes before sun exposure. Apply it to all exposed skin, including the tips of the ears, the back of the neck and the backs of both hands. Sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours; more often if you’re swimming or perspiring.

· Wear dark-colored, protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Some clothing is specially made with UV resistance. Protect your head and face with a wide-brimmed hat.

· Wear sunglasses with total UV protection to protect your eyes and the skin around them.

· Avoid sun exposure as much as you can, particularly between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is at its most intense.

· Check your skin once a month for changes, such as a new growth, a sore that won’t heal, or a bleeding mole. This makes it more likely that you’ll catch a skin cancer early, when there’s a much better chance of successful treatment.

There are three main types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the least serious and most common skin cancers. Called nonmelanoma skin cancers, they are usually curable when caught and treated early.

Melanoma, a pigmented cancer, is rare but far more dangerous. It’s responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths in the U.S. If it’s not caught and treated early, or left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. It’s extremely difficult to control.

Skin cancers most often appear as a small bump or lesion (damaged area) on the skin or as a new mole or change in the appearance of a mole. Watch especially for the “ABCDE’s:”

·         Asymmetrical: one side looks different from the other

·         Borders that are irregular

·         Color changes, or more than one color

·         Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser

·         Evolving; the growth changes in size, shape, surface, shades of color, or if it itches, becomes tender, or bleeds

Be sure to visit your doctor if you see any of these signs of skin cancer. For more information about this or other health-related subjects, click here.  

Leslie Vandever—known as "Wren" to the readers of RheumaBlog, her personal blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis—is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.

References

· What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk? (2014, Jan. 22) Skin Cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on March 17,  2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/prevention.htm

· Skin Cancer Prevention. (2013, May 31) National Cancer Institute. Retrieved on March 17, 2014 from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/skin/Patient/page3

· Prevention. (2014, Jan. 2) Skin Cancer. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on March 17, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/basics/prevention/con-20031606

· Sun: Overview. (2013, Sept. 21) Solar System Exploration. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Retrieved on March 17, 2014 from http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Sun&Display=OverviewLong