Saturday, October 8, 2011

Discovering Dangers of the Sun’s Rays—The Hard Way (June 23, 2011)

Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the streets — as well as lying out in the sun and getting a tan. While the former may be exhilarating and the latter may be a good idea for a short-term cosmetic enhancement, it increases your chances of getting wrinkles, and it can be harmful — even lethal.
Those who crave a seasonal tan may not realize that the sun’s rays could eventually cause skin cancer. The disease may not show up for few years, but there’s a chance it’ll develop in your lifetime.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), sun exposure is the biggest cause of skin cancers, but early diagnosis and treatment increases the survival rate from advanced melanoma. However, in the later stages, treatment may be too late.
I learned that a few years ago when I was diagnosed and treated for low-level skin cancer. The dermatologist told me my condition was likely due to prolonged exposure as a child. Before I reached my teens, I spent many summer days on the beach at Bay 18 in Coney Island with friends, family and neighbors. Wearing bathing suits and covered with liberal amounts of suntan lotion to prevent sunburn, we swam, played games, built the occasional sand castle and had lots of fun. But, at the time, the public was generally oblivious to the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.
In high school, I spent many more than a few summer vacation days with friends at Manhattan Beach or Riis Park. We usually went to the Queens beach after a few hours of 18-hole three-par golf — in the sun without sunscreen. So, before the dangers of skin cancer were widely known, my body absorbed dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays that gradually transformed cells in my body.
Since I was diagnosed with skin cancer and conscious of it, I regularly inspect myself for new cancer growths.
Did you know it is the most common of all human cancers? Some form of skin cancer is diagnosed in more than one million Americans each year, according to the American Cancer Society. The number of cases has spiked in the last decade, which may be attributed to the increased use of tanning beds.
My first genuine awareness came about 25 years ago when a co-worker, who had taken a day off for a “minor medical procedure,” returned and said she had a small cancerous lesion removed from her face. She explained that her doctor advised her from then on to wear a wide-brimmed hat whenever she went out in the sun. After that I began to take more care when I exposed myself to the sun. I stopped sunning on my terrace. I often wore a t-shirt at the beach or a pool, even with a substantial dose of sunscreen. Yet, until my skin cancer was detected, I still didn’t use adequate protection.
Skin cancer can also be fatal. My condition really sunk in 2008 when Danny Federici, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, died three years after he was diagnosed with melanoma. However, like many cancers, when treated in their early stages, the survival rate is high.
Last week, after a 33-year delay, the federal government issued new, safer guidelines for sunscreen manufacturers, who apparently had been making false claims about their products and ingredients. Nevertheless, they don’t take effect until next summer; most likely to give sunscreen makers time to alter formulas and containers.
The best way to prevent melanoma is to avoid excess sun exposure because a tan is only skin deep, but cancer starts below the surface and may not be detected until it’s too late.