Uncovering the facts of skin cancer

One blistering sunburn in adolescence nearly doubles the risk of melanoma

Jack Stensland, Sports Editor

Most people, especially teenagers, like to enjoy a little fun in the sun during these summer months. Every year millions of people nationwide take advantage of sunny days by participating in activities such as going to the beach, playing sports and camping. The sun provides warmth and light which can invigorate the spirits and boost energy; however, the sun’s benefits come with a seriously dangerous tradeoff.

Skin cancer, mainly caused by over-exposure to sunlight, is an up-and-coming crisis in America that affects people of younger and younger ages. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer in the United States, as well as the fastest growing cancer among 18 to 24-year olds. Annually, around one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer, with 60,000 developing the most dangerous form of the disease: melanoma.

The American Cancer Society reports that the number of people diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. has risen 200 percent since 1973. It is estimated that 40 to 50 percent of fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer spot. However, when detected early, skin cancer is relatively easy to treat. Scientists have also created sunscreens that are sold over-the-counter in order to reduce skin cancer.

“When I was diagnosed with melanoma, I wasn’t surprised,” said English teacher Kristen Graham, who admits to frequent sunbathing as a child. “I was, however, very thankful I discovered the cancer early; I can’t imagine what would happen if I hadn’t found it when I did.”

The purpose of sunscreen is to prevent the sun’s ultraviolet rays from damaging skin cells. The two types of ultraviolet rays that medical professionals are most concerned with are UV-A and UV-B rays. UV-A rays penetrate deep into the skin, contributing to genetic mutations which lead to tumors, whereas UV-B rays are the main cause of sunburn.

Active sunbathers such as swimmers, water polo players, and other athletes are often told the harmful effects of the sun; however, many are too stubborn to wear the appropriate sunscreen protection.

“Even though I personally have extremely fair skin, I don’t use recommended sunscreen,” sophomore McKenna Chitwood said. “I am not worried about the possibility of contracting skin cancer.”

Chitwood could be making a serious mistake. The way teens treat their skin in adolescence determines how their skin will treat them in adulthood. As little as one blistering sunburn in adolescence nearly doubles the risk of melanoma later in life.

“You know, back in my day, we were all too cool for that stuff,” water polo coach Herb Vochatzer said. “Now I’m paying the consequences for not wearing sunscreen.”

Vochatzer was diagnosed with basal cell skin cancer, the most common type, after decades of sun exposure.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the regulation of broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays. Instead, American sunscreen still is limited to the protection from UV-B rays—the rays that prevent sunburn, not cancer. In all other parts of the world, broad-spectrum sunscreen is approved and its users get protection of both UV-A and UV-B rays.

“I will certainly use the advanced sunscreen when it comes out,” swimmer Connor Revay, a senior, said. “I often get burned pretty bad no matter what sunscreens I use.”

Revay’s sunburns emphasize the importance of applying sunscreen repeatedly throughout the day. Most sunscreens wash off in the water, so frequent application is necessary.

The U.S. will see an influx of new broad-spectrum sunscreens within the next 18 months as the FDA finally approved the bill on new sunscreen that allows the sale of broad spectrum sunscreen. Americans will be able to get the same high end protection that the rest of the world is already accustomed to.