The dangers of sun exposure

I am pasting below an article I came across recently from a U.S. Soccer Referee. I can’t find the actual website anymore despite googling for it so I can’t add a link here. But I pasted it into an email and sent it to my wife so I’m pasting the actual (shortened) text below:

My Time in the Sun – Mike Krebs, U.S. Soccer Referee

George W. Bush. John McCain. Maureen Reagan. I’ll never make the headlines like these people, but I suffer from skin cancer just as they have. Skin cancer is caused by too much exposure to the sun over a long period of time. The problem usually does not appear until later in life, twenty or thirty years after exposure.

I spent my teenage years outdoors – camping, hiking, swimming at a pool or the beach, playing baseball (soccer was not an option then) and working as a lifeguard and summer camp counselor. I loved the sun but hated the greasy, oily feeling of sun lotions and a white zinc oxide nose was just not cool.

I have been visiting a dermatologist every three months for many years and every visit yields new skin pre- or cancerous sites that need to be treated. I will be doing this for the rest of my life.

Here are a few facts about skin cancer:

  • The chronic effects of overexposure to the sun are cumulative, persist throughout life and are irreversible.
  • People can acquire 50% of their lifetime exposure to the sun’s rays by age 18.
  • By age 21, more than 80% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure can be acquired.
  • One serious sunburn early in life can increase the risk for skin cancer by as much as 50%.
  • It is estimated that one of five people will get skin cancer at some time during their lifetime.
  • There are over one million cases of skin cancer reported yearly, increasing yearly.

Regular use of a sunscreen of SPF-15 starting at age 6 months through 18 years is reported to reduce the lifetime incidence of skin cancer by as much as 78%. An SPF-30 or higher product would be even better.

When UVA and UVB (ultraviolet) radiation is absorbed by the skin, it causes a series of damaging reactions called photo trauma. Sunburn, blistering, and redness are typical signs of photo trauma; even tanning is damaging to the skin. Prolonged exposure to either natural or artificial sunlight can cause a range of problems:

  • Prematurely aged, or photo-aged, skin appears dry, scaly, leathery, deeply wrinkled, rough, sagging, age-spotted, freckled, or yellowed.
  • Actinic keratosis – a pre-cancerous lesion or rough, crusty spot on the skin.
  • Basal cell carcinoma (cancer) – the most frequently reported skin cancer develops slowly over a lifetime and does not metastasize or spread to other parts of the body.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – may develop into tumors and metastasize to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant melanoma – the most serious skin cancer; can spread to other tissues, resulting in death.

Most of my sites have been actinic keratoses. They are usually found on the face, neck, arms, hands and legs, the parts of the body most exposed to the sun. Sometimes a site appears more advanced and a biopsy (a test for cancer) is needed. With three biopsies in the past two years, two have identified sites of skin cancer, one a basal cell carcinoma and one a squamous cell carcinoma; both were surgically removed.

How can you minimize the risk of skin cancer? Easy, if you are going to be in the sun, use an SPF-30 or higher sunscreen. There is even a mixture of sun lotion and insect repellant available for those spring matches near the woods. Apply it before you leave home. If you will be outside all day working a tournament, reapply every couple hours and find some shade under the trees or in the referee tent in between matches. It will help prevent the ultraviolet rays from reaching your skin. Simple!
Play Hard! Play Fair! Have Fun! And Use Sunscreen!

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

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