Q: What does the term SPF mean?
A: SPF stands for the “Sun Protection Factor.” The SPF rating, mainly a measure of UVB protection, shows how long protection from the sun’s UVB rays lasts with an application. The higher the SPF, the longer the protection will last.
For example, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will delay the onset of a sunburn in a person who would otherwise burn in 10 minutes to burn in 150 minutes. Therefore, an application of a SPF 15 sunscreen would allow a person to stay out in the sun 15 times longer.
However, many sunscreens do not block UVA radiation, which does not cause sunburn but can increase the rate of melanoma. Thus, people using sunscreens may be exposed to high UVA levels without realizing it. For the best protection, the use of broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen is recommended.
Q: What does UVA and UVB stand for in regards to sun exposure?
A: UV is short for ultraviolet, part of the sun’s light that is invisible to the human eye. UVA rays are those that penetrate the skin deeply and are responsible for tanning. Causing skin cells to age, UVA rays give sun worshipers wrinkles. Exposure to UVA rays in large doses can also cause skin cancer. However, UVB rays are considered the more “dangerous” of the sun’s rays and are most commonly linked to skin cancer. UVB Rays are the rays you can blame when you get a sunburn. Unlike UVA rays, these rays aren’t always the same strength year round. They are more prevalent in the summer months; however, they are able to reflect off of water or snow.
Q: What kind of skin cancers are there?
A: The three major types of skin cancers are squamous cell, basal cell, and melanoma. Squamous cell skin cancers, making up 20% of all skin cancers, tend to be on areas of sun-exposed skin, such as the face, eyes, lips, arms, and back of hands. With over 1 million new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in humans. These cancers grow slowly and usually appear on the face and neck area. Melanoma derives from special cells in the skin and can occur anywhere on the body. Caught early, most melanomas can be cured with relatively minor surgery. However, melanoma can be more serious than the other forms of skin cancer, because it may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body and cause serious illness and death.
More than 230,000 new breast cancers are found in the United States every year. The majority of attention toward prevention of breast cancer is early detection and improved treatment protocols; however, what else could result in prevention?
A recent Nurse’s Health Study estimated that more than half of all breast cancers could be prevented by exercising and maintaining a healthy weight from a young age and by the use of chemoprevention.
The study referred to physical activity and healthy weight maintenance as keys to preventing breast cancer. Physical activity on a regular basis decreases the overall risk of breast cancer by 10%. In the American Cancer Society’s Prevention Study II, women who walked an hour a day had a 14% reduction. The even more active women had a 25% reduction in breast cancer risk. Maintaining a healthy weight from a young age is also very important in breast cancer prevention. Those having a weight gain from the age of 18 on showed an increased risk of breast cancer directly related to the amount of weight gained. In the same study, women who lost 22 pounds or more and kept it off had a reduction of over 50% breast cancer risk.
The last option to add is chemoprevention. Chemoprevention is the use of preventive medications to reduce the breast cancer risk in women at high risk of developing the disease, such as women who have had a breast biopsy that found a precancerous condition such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia or atypical lobular hyperplasia and women with a strong family history of breast cancer. Estimates are that nearly 8 million women would benefit in the United States alone from this prevention treatment.
An important take away from this study is that it’s never too late to start losing weight and exercising. The health benefits received from both are well worth the efforts required. Please, talk to your doctor about these additional methods of preventing breast cancer.