Talk to Your Patients About Sun Damage

By Karin Krisher

sun damageWe’ve all heard (and given) plenty of tips about avoiding sun damage.

Cover up if you can, slather on the sunscreen, don’t go tanning. The conversation about skin cancer might seem worn out, but given the constantly emerging tidbits of information about melanoma risk factors, newly approved drugs, and other harmful forms of tanning, I think it’s still fresh. And it might be time to talk to your patients about skin cancer—again.

What’s New?

A starkly asymmetrical photograph of a lifetime truck-driver’s wrinkled/smooth visage drew my attention back to the issue of sun damage, reminding me that melanoma is the most common form of cancer. Because there is a plethora of new information, we’ll simply list quick references here instead of going too in-depth—like we said, the conversation is a bit tired, but the new information makes it a necessary repeat.

That man’s sun-ravaged skin doesn’t seem so far fetched (no, it wasn’t Photoshop) when recent research confirms that older men are at higher risk for skin cancer. In fact, The American Academy of Dermatology’s data tell us that in men over 65, the number of melanomas has increased approximately nine percent since 2002.

Further, emerging research indicates that:

-Tanning just four times can present an increase of 15 percent likelihood of
developing skin cancer

-Smoking cigarettes might raise your odds

-Spray tanning chemicals have been linked to lung cancer (See? The sun isn’t always the bad guy, after all!)

-Childhood abuse, maltreatment or divorce experience exhibits some correlation with the development of skin cancer

The Good News About Sun Damage?

For every new fear about skin cancer-causing agents, there’s a way to assuage that fear. In the May 29 publication of “Cancer,” researchers revealed the possible benefits of ibuprofen and aspirin use in supporting skin cell health. The anti-inflammatory properties of these drugs may have some effect.

Yet another bone has been thrown my Irish/German way—caffeine consumption and exercise may lower my risk of skin cancer.

And finally, patents and licenses on skin cancer preventative drugs are on the rise. sun damageResearchers at the Society of Nuclear Medicine’s 2012 Annual Meeting  noted earlier this week that “a customized patch treatment for basal cell carcinoma completely destroys facial tumors without surgery or major radiation therapy in 80 percent of patients studied.” (ScienceDaily)


What You Can Do

All of your patients should be familiar with what to look for in a mole, and what to hope not to find. If you don’t have even a poster or a brochure on the topic, get some. Dispelling myths about sun protection is also part of the conversation: it’s not true that you can apply once and call it quits. It’s also not true that you can apply sunscreen and then jump right in the water, or that a light shirt will offer full protection.

Help your patients figure out a plan for their outings to ensure they are appropriately guarded, and most importantly, that they are able to enjoy the sunshine without once experiencing its lack of restraint.

Have you had to have a serious conversation about sun damage? Tell us about your approach in a comment!