Ultraviolet radiation is radiation that comes to the earth from the sun, in varying wavelengths that are shorter than the light we can see with the naked eye. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that ultraviolet A or long-wave and ultraviolet B or shortwave rays can both produce damage in the skin resulting in cancer. UVA typically comes in “320-400 nm and two wave ranges; UVB ranges from 290 to 320 nm” (Skin Cancer Foundation, n.d.). UVA and UVB can cause damage other than skin cancer, which includes many common damaging effects of the sun including aging or wrinkling from the sun, vision loss, and cataracts; too much exposure may also limit the immune system’s ability to fight off disease, and result in other illnesses (Skin Cancer Foundation, n.d.).
Generally UVA tends to penetrate the skin more deeply over the course of one’s life, resulting in premature aging and wrinkling. UVA is often more common in tanning as well, darkening the skin as a result in changes to the DNA of the skin. UVB tends to result in burning, damaging the outer or epidermal layers of the skin, contributing more to cancer; most of the UVB rays penetrate between the hours of 10 to 4pm during the day, and is more prevalent in higher altitudes (Skin Cancer Foundation, n.d.; IARC, 2005). There are many steps you can take to prevent exposure to UV radiation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013) recommend seeking shade during the most pronounced times of the day, particularly during the midday. Other protective measures including wearing longer sleeves or protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and protective sunblock, with protection against UVA and UVB sunrays; other measures include staying out of the sun or staying under protective shade, including using an umbrella or other protective device which can protect against the harmful rays of the sun (CDC, 2013). Tanning is not recommended, as even “safe” tanning beds can result in harmful and damaging exposure to UV radiation, which can still result in damage to the skin, including damage that can lead to skin cancer.
Some clothing is available that is made with Ultraviolet Protection Factor, which can protect from radiation from the sun; ordinary clothing offers protection that is often less than 15 sun protection factor (CDC, 2013).
The Canadian Cancer Society (2013) defines melanoma as the deadliest form of skin cancer; this type of cancer starts on the skin, which is actually the largest organ of the body making cancer growth easy to spread. The skin is usually responsible for protecting the body from danger, including those posed by ultraviolet light. The top layer of skin is called the epidermis and is typically is the first layer exposed to the sun, thus this is the layer people usually seek damaged with the naked eye. The bottom layer however, contains many substances that are vital for health, including the nerves, blood and fatty tissues. The technical names for the cells below the skin’s surface include the squamous cells which are the first cells that sit just below the surface; next are the basal cells which sit just below the squamous cells, and melanocytes which are further inside the epidermal layers of the skin (Canadian Cancer Society, 2013). Melanocytes create a pigment known as melanin to darken the skin in response to exposure to the sun (Canadian Cancer Society, 2013). Cancer can form in any of these types of cells, and is named accordingly, as squamous cell, basal cell, or melanoma, which starts in the deepest layers of the melanocytes (Canadian Cancer Society, 2013).
While melanoma is less common than squamous cell, it can start anywhere where these cells are found. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, these places may include: “the mouth, vagina, fingernails and other places in the body” (Canadian Cancer Society, 2013). It is important for individuals with regular sun exposure to have a routine checkup from a dermatologist to look for cancer growth in these areas, or to have unusual moles checked including those with irregular borders or edges, as this may be a sign of growth of cancer cells.
- Canadian Cancer Society. What is Melanoma? 2013. 24 November 2013. < http://www.cancer.ca
- CDC. Prevention. 2013.24 November 2013. < http://www.cdc.gov/
- IARC. (2005). Exposure to Artificial UV Radiation and Skin Cancer. 24 November 2005. < http://www.iarc.fr
- Skin Cancer Foundation. Understanding UVA and UVB. Web. 24 November 2013< http://www.skincancer.org/