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  • Writer's pictureJames Wurzer, M.D.

Save your own skin—and possibly your life


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As a provider who has cared for individuals with cancer for more than 27 years, I am disappointed when people don’t take seriously the danger of the sun’s rays. A recent American Academy of Dermatology survey1 noted 71 percent of Generation Z adults ages 18 to 25 are unfamiliar with the risks associated with sunburn. What shocked me even more, was that according to the survey, among the Gen Z adults:


• 20 percent said getting a tan was more important to them than preventing skin cancer


• 30 percent said that it is worth looking great now even if it means looking worse late in life

I am deeply concerned about results of this and other skin cancer survey and statistics, but I am not surprised.


According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers; melanoma accounts for about 1% of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. Also, rates of melanoma have been rising rapidly over the past few decades.


My AtlantiCare Cancer Care Institute, a Fox Chase Cancer Center partner, colleagues and I are seeing an increase in the number of patients who have skin cancer, including those who have melanoma. Untreated skin cancer can destroy healthy tissue or bones, spread to lymph nodes.


There are many myths and excuses people share when we advise them to be vigilant about preventing and detecting skin cancer. They include:


• If I get a tan, I won’t burn or get skin cancer.


• I’m too young to get skin cancer.


• No one in my family has skin cancer.


A lifelong lover of Jersey Shore activities came to our Cancer Care Institute for radiation treatment of her skin cancer after her dermatologist referred her to our team. The patient, Donna, who is 76 years old, told us her parents were beach lovers. She said as she was growing up and for many years of her life, neither she, nor her parents used sunscreen. This isn’t uncommon.


Have you heard people speak about slathering baby oil on their skin? That was common years ago. Donna said she occasionally did this. Also, “sunscreen” was marketed as “suntan lotion” and decades ago most brands had very low sun protection factors (SPF).


The great news is Donna, an avid golfer, is committed to having annual skin cancer screenings. That’s why she and her dermatologist caught her skin cancer early. Also, she’s dedicated to protecting her skin and encouraging her family, friends and fellow golfers to do so.


As you make your summer vacation, barbecue invitation, beach reading and other lists, stick to this Save Your Own Skin – and Possibly Your Life list:


1. Use a broad spectrum (protects you against UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Do so any time you are outdoors, regardless of the season, and whether the sun is shining, clouds are prevailing or day is cold. Remember to reapply sunscreen regularly if you are sweating or participating in water activities. Also wear protective clothing. Stay out of the sun as much as you can between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.


2. Never use a tanning bed, booth, sunbed or sunlamp.


3. Know your personal and family history of skin cancer, including having certain types of moles and skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun.


4. Recognize that even those without a family history, or who have dark skin can be susceptible to skin cancer.


5. Refrain from smoking cigarettes or using e-cigarettes. Smoking can contribute to the development of cancers beyond those of the lung, mouth and throat – including skin cancer.

6. Have annual screenings and visits with your healthcare provider. Promptly tell your provider during or between visits about any unusual moles or changes in your skin.


7. Practice healthful behaviors, including getting enough rest, good nutrition, regular exercise and having social support.


Our AtlantiCare Cancer Care Institute team offers the most advanced technology and innovative approaches to treating skin cancers and other cancers. We know giving patients the best care takes more than offering our medical expertise. Our medical, radiation and surgical oncologists; certified nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, researchers, genetic counselors, social workers, navigators and other colleagues treat patients like family.


Just as we are thrilled when Donna shares stories about how she’s enjoying her healthy lifestyle, we’re humbled by what she says about her care. “The whole team was so warm and welcoming,” she says. “What amazed me was how they focused so personally on me and on people recovering from so many types of cancer. From the time I walked in for each treatment to the time I left, I had such a good feeling. The team and many of the patients and I became like family. I was already steadfast about getting screenings, but my AtlantiCare experience validated just how valuable my vigilance about my health is.”


For more information, visit atlanticare.org/cancercare or call 1-888-569-1000.


James Wurzer, M.D. is the Medical Director for AtlantiCare Cancer Care Institute and Radiation Oncology, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.


1. American Academy of Dermatology survey shows Generation Z adults are unfamiliar with sunburn and tanning risks (aad.org)

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