Summer sun and skin cancer risks

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With the arrival of spring and summer hot on its heels, the sunshine brings excitement and adventure to Utahns. Without proper protection, however, the sun can also bring serious threats.

Dr. Justin Piasecki, renowned skin cancer specialist, plastic surgeon and founder of the Skin Cancer Center located near Seattle, warns his patients about the negative effects brought on with sunshine.

He advised to always put on sunscreen. Even when it seems like a hassle or unnecessary, it is crucial. Piasecki recommended an SPF of 30 or higher and a brand “that you’re actually going to put on your skin.”

BYU Student Health Center’s medical director, Dr. Keith Willmore, gave some tips on being safe in the sun. “The best way to protect ourselves is to stay fully clothed, but obviously a lot of us prefer to wear shorts when we’re out and about.” He emphasized that the only other remedy is that those in the sun should repeatedly apply sunscreen. He, as well as Piasecki, pointed out the importance of putting on a good coat every two to three hours.

If nothing else, applying sunscreen to the back of the hands and the face can greatly reduce the risk of burns and potential cancer, Piasecki said. The cosmetic areas of the body are the most easily affected and the hardest to treat if cancer develops.

Tyler Thomas, a linguistics major from Richfield, has seen skin cancer affect the lives of many of his loved ones. Not only has he had friends go through skin cancer treatments, but family members as well.

“You hear about people dying from cancer all the time, and you’re never really sure just how long they will make it,” he said. “I lost my grandpa to it, but my mother and her dad both survived.”

Thomas said a big fear of his is the chance that it could come back. He does try, however, to implement smart habits to protect his fair skin. “I don’t go tanning or lay out in the sun. I know that I’m very prone to getting skin cancer because the rest of my entire family has had it.”

Piasecki said that while maintaining proper protection habits has an influence, there is still a chance of developing skin cancer at some point in one’s life. However, doing all one can to protect him or herself decreases the risk and/or subsequent severity of cancer.

Willmore said skin cancer isn’t the only problem. Severe sunburns can cause skin damage, wrinkles, early aging and, overall, unhealthy skin. He said that sometimes the worst cases are patients who come in with second-degree burns from the sun.

Both doctors agreed that being overly cautious will only preserve one’s skin and reduce the risk of big problems down the road.

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