Oh sunny, sunny days... Many would agree that there truly is nothing better than relaxing outdoors, perhaps soaking up a few of those golden rays. But like most of the things we enjoy in life, moderation is the key and that's especially true when it comes to sun exposure.
Skin cancer affects people of all ages and the main cause is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), primarily from the sun although tanning beds are another source (1;2). The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma (1). Both of these "non-melanoma" types of cancer tend to grow slow and rarely metastasize (spread to other parts of the body), unlike melanoma (1). Melanoma is being diagnosed more frequently in both men and women (3).
Can some deaths be prevented with screening and surveillance to detect cancer at the earliest stages? That's the subject of ongoing research but so far, the evidence isn't encouraging: one study found that screening programs had only a very small effect on the number of deaths due to skin cancer (4).
How to practice safe sun
So while people are still urged to have any unusual moles and growths checked, prevention remains the key to reducing skin cancer risk. Here are ways to keep a safe and respectable distance from the sun's powerful rays (5-9):
Check the UV index on a daily basis, so you're aware of the strength of the sun’s rays. If it's a three or higher, take extra care to protect your skin (6).
Limit the time you spend in the sun or avoid it altogether during the middle of the day (between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.), when the UV index tends to be higher in Canada (5;6).
Cover up. Wear a hat, sunglasses and clothing designed to protect you from the sun's rays. Staying in the shade and covering up are more effective than sunscreen for reducing cancer risk (7).
If you have to be exposed to the sun, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and reapply frequently (5;6).
Be particularly vigilant when you’re in or near water, sand or snow as they reflect the sun's rays (5).
Don't assume you're safe when the temperature is low, the sun isn't out in full force or there's a cooling breeze: you don't have to be feeling the heat to suffer sunburn and skin damage (5)!
Avoid use of tanning beds; studies show that tanning bed use increases your risk of melanoma by 16% (8;9).
A deep tan may look attractive in the short term, but we know it's a sign of skin damage and a warning sign we need to heed if we want to avoid skin cancer.