Be safe in the sun

“Spray this on my back, will you?”

I hand my wife the bottle of sunscreen and she complies with my request with a good blast of the stuff.  I take care of the rest, spraying down arms, chest, stomach, neck and rubbing some of my face before heading out for my daily run. It’s a ritual I take time for as a precaution against skin cancer, and as much as I run, I like to be protected.

If you think I’m just being paranoid, remember that last year, the state Department of Health and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center reported that the rate of skin melanoma, a cancer related to ultraviolet exposure, on Kauai was higher than the rest of the state.

According to the study, higher rates of melanoma on Kauai were found, especially on the North Shore, which may be explained by a larger proportion of older adults of Caucasian ancestry with high levels of lifetime sun exposure.

“The incidence of melanoma on Kauai was significantly elevated for the time period 2000-2004,” the report states.

This wasn’t the first time Kauai had been pointed out for higher rates of melanoma. According to the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, a study that stretched from 1981 to 1990 concluded that “The melanoma incidence in Kauai is one of the highest rates documented in the U.S.A.”

So, my reason for pointing this out is to encourage folks to be careful out there. Don’t take unnecessary chances. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and sun exposure is a major risk factor. On Kauai, every day, folks are out there on beaches, trails and boats. People live here for the sun. People visit here for the sun. But before drifting off to the sleep on your beach towel to get a tan, consider these figures from the Skin Cancer Foundation about melanoma:

– From 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men.

–  One person dies of melanoma every 57 minutes.

–  An estimated 76,690 new cases of invasive melanoma were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2013.2

–  Melanoma accounts for less than 5 percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

–  Of the seven most common cancers in the U.S., melanoma is the only one whose incidence is increasing. Between 2000 and 2009, incidence climbed 1.9 percent annually.

–  In 2009, there were approximately 876, 344 men and women alive in the U.S. with a history of melanoma.

– About 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet  radiation from the sun.

–  Melanoma is one of only three cancers with an increasing mortality rate for men, along with liver cancer and esophageal cancer.

–  The vast majority of mutations found in melanoma are caused by ultraviolet radiation.

–  The overall 5-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has spread to regional lymph nodes or other organs, is about 98 percent in the US. The survival rate falls to 62 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes, and 15 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.

–  A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.

All that and more is why I love the cloudy days here. Perfect for long runs.

So to wrap this up, here’s some basic tips to stay safe under the sun:

– Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Put it on 15 minutes before heading out. And don’t try to save by using a little. Apply liberally and often is a common rule of thumb.

–  When it comes to sunscreen, use broad-spectrum sunscreens that offer protection from both UVB and UVA rays. And know that water resistant doesn’t mean waterproof.

–  Wear long-sleeved, light shirts when you can.

– Wear broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses and find shade.

Have fun in the sun. But be safe, too. Aloha.


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