The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for Americans across our nation. It has changed the way we go to school, work and interact with our friends and family.
As Colorado transitions from staying home to “Safer-at-Home” and spring has finally arrived with longer, warmer days, we will all be looking to spend more time outside.
Getting outdoors is definitely a boost to mental and physical health, especially right now. Increased time outdoors can boost your mood and your energy levels, but it can also increase your risk of skin cancer.
This month is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and I want to take this time to share information to help protect you and your family.
As much as we all love the sun, going outside without protection from UV rays can be dangerous. In fact, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more new cases diagnosed each year than cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined.
An estimated 100,350 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — in 2020. Because of Colorado’s high elevation and more than 300 days of sunshine a year, our risk of getting skin cancer can be even greater.
My family has dealt with the pain of watching loved ones struggle with skin cancer. Both of my grandparents and my husband’s grandmother had tissues removed and tested, as has my own dad. I myself have had several moles removed and tested – and one came back negative for melanoma, but abnormal.
It is also especially important to protect children from overexposure to the sun. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of a person’s lifetime UV exposure typically occurs during childhood and adolescence, so protection at a young age is critically important. Just one blistering sunburn as a child or adolescent more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
While we are all still being safe at home, do go outside, but recreate responsibly and follow guidance from health officials. Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays, with an SPF of 30 or higher, even on cloudy days.
Apply at least one ounce of sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply frequently — at least every two hours if in continuous sunlight or directly after swimming. Wear sunglasses treated to absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation, use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 — and wear hats, sunglasses, long sleeves and pants. Exposure to UV rays from artificial sources, such as tanning beds, can increase your risk of skin cancer as well as other health problems.
There are many misconceptions surrounding this disease, but the truth is that anyone can develop skin cancer. Skin cancer does not discriminate against any race, hair color or age. While people with fair skin, moles and a history of sunburns are at higher risk, African American, Hispanic and Asian populations have a much higher fatality rate from this disease.
Make sure you pay attention to any new freckles, moles or spots that show asymmetry, border irregularity, color that is not uniform, a diameter greater than six millimeters and elevation differences. If you notice changes like these in your skin, talk to your doctor.
Even people with no history or risk factors should make annual appointments with a dermatologist or qualified health practitioner for a skin-check; those with risk factors may need visits more frequently, as early detection is crucial.
As we venture outside to get much-needed fresh air, be careful, practice sun safety and teach your children and family members to do the same. There is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but it’s critical we continue listening to experts who tell us that the key to slowing the spread of this virus is to limit contact as much as possible, wear a mask and social distance – keeping a six-foot barrier between yourself and others.
If you are in a high-risk group, continue to follow guidance from the state and health professionals. This summer is going to look much different for all of us, but Coloradans are resilient and we will get through this pandemic together.
For more information about skin cancer prevention and early detection, visit the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s website at www.preventcancer.org.
Jaime Gardner is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, and is married to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado.
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