(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES – Before students put too much work into their tans, sunbathers should know that too much sun exposure – at any age – puts them at risk for developing skin cancer later in life.
“It’s a fact that many people get harmful sun exposure during (their) youth,” said Dr. Michael Kolodney of the UCLA Division of Dermatology.
Young people are at a high risk for skin damage because they often spend time outdoors working, playing sports or relaxing.
“It’s not uncommon to see people (at as early an age as their) 30s with skin cancer,” Kolodney said.
Southern California is blessed with warm summer weather, which encourages young people to begin tanning early in life.
Polly Averyt, 42, a Southern California native from Newport Beach, Calif., has been living with skin cancer since childhood.
She was first diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer, at 13.
In her youth, Averyt sunburned and peeled many times. But, she said, the “risks were not known then, and tans were complimented, (so) I felt better with a tan.”
After years of recurrences of the cancer, Averyt needed extensive reconstructive surgery to her face to repair the damage caused by removing tumors. Her condition was not fatal.
Basal cell carcinoma, along with squamous cell carcinoma, are types of skin cancer that are painful and uncomfortable to live with, but are treatable.
“Generally, both basal cell and squamous cell cancers don’t spread quickly, which makes them easier to treat,” Kolodney said.
Eight hundred thousand new cases of BCC and 200,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma affect Americans every year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
These cancers occur in areas like the face, neck, shoulders, arms and especially around the lower lip and ear.
Melanoma, the third and most dangerous type of skin cancer, afflicts 51,000 Americans every year. If not treated early on, melanoma can be fatal.
While most young people at UCLA may know about the risks of skin cancer, many do not always follow the medical guidelines to avoid overexposure to the sun: sunscreen and shade.
“I usually wear sunscreen, but if I’m out all day, sometimes I’ll only put it on once,” said Louis Rigolosi, a fourth-year microbiology student.
Raffi Kalenderian, a fourth-year art student, sometimes forgets to bring sunscreen and has to borrow from others.
Bettina Pedone, a nurse practitioner at the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center, said she sees few students from UCLA campus seeking help or advice for sunburns. “I’ve seen … maybe one or two this year,” Pedone said.
Chris Lewis, a nurse practitioner specializing in dermatology at the Ashe Center, agreed with Pedone. Except to get treatment for the pain of the burn, students by and large do not come in to inquire about the risks of cancer, Lewis said.
Students who do go to use the Ashe Center’s dermatology resources can get a full-body screen for skin damage and treatment for severe sunburns.
If the condition of the skin is especially dangerous, the Ashe Center will refer students to the UCLA Division of Dermatology for medical attention.
In most cases, Lewis said, students burned as a result of not using sunscreen. But simply applying sunscreen to avoid these complications is not always enough, said Lewis.
“There’s a misconception about sunscreen,” Lewis said. “If (students) have it on, (they) stay out in the sun longer – so it’s no use.”
The rules of staying safe in the sun are the same today as they were 25 years ago for Polly Averyt: apply sunscreen in advance, and keep reapplying. Wear sunglasses and avoid excessive sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
New treatments for skin damage have emerged in recent years, but medicine still cannot reverse injury already inflicted.