By Dr. Daniel Walker
There is a common misconception within the community that skin cancer is a condition that only affects older individuals. In fact, melanoma, one of the deadliest skin cancers, often occurs in younger populations (people in their 20’s and 30’s).
As parents prepare their children for summer activities, it is important to keep in mind that young children are not immune to the harmful effects of the sun. Developing a habit of protecting the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation early in an individual’s life may be critical to preventing skin cancer later in life.
Several studies prove that sunburns during childhood and adolescence significantly elevate the risk for melanoma development. This implies that much of a person’s risk for melanoma is actually acquired early in life. Parents need to be aware that UV damage done early in a child’s life may be a key factor in skin cancer development later in life.
Chronic sun exposure is not necessary for the development of melanoma in all individuals. In fact, fair-skinned individuals who don’t get much sun exposure, but have had a few severe, blistering sunburns may be at greater risk for developing melanoma than darker individuals who spend more time in the sun.
In essence, a few severe sunburns may be enough to greatly increase a person’s risk for skin cancer.
It’s essential that parents make a habit of carrying sunscreen to all outdoor activities. The proper application of sunscreen is also important in protecting a child’s skin. Use sunscreens that are at least SPF 30 and labeled “broad spectrum,” meaning they protect against both UV-A and UV-B. Sunscreen should be applied every two to three hours.
“Water-resistant” sunscreens are useful when water sports are on the agenda, but it is important to apply the sunscreen 10 to 15 minutes prior to getting in the water, allowing the sunscreen to dry completely beforehand.
In addition to sunscreen, there are a number of other protective measures parents can take to protect their children. In our family, we love UV-blocking clothing. A number of companies now make active-wear and swimwear that provides excellent sun blocking capabilities and are still reasonably fashionable. These come in the form of shirts, hats, and shorts.
Using shade cover when available is also helpful, as well as avoiding outdoor activities during hours of peak UV intensity of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
There are a number of measures you can take to keep your family safe from skin cancer. Skin cancer does not discriminate and can affect young and old alike. By educating yourself about the misconceptions about skin cancer and how to prevent it at a young age, you’ll ensure a safe and healthy life.
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