Absorbing Just the Right Amount of Sun

To avoid melanoma, make your dermatologist appointment now for 2017

On the heels of a warning this winter that we’re increasingly vitamin D-deficient because we’re avoiding the sun too much, there is news that melanoma cases are rising and we need to better protect ourselves from harmful rays.

Unsure now of whether you can safely step out the door?

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We need the sun: Vitamin D from natural light helps our bodies absorb calcium to promote bone growth. Too little vitamin D can create problems for children (rickets) and adults (osteomalacia), according to WebMD. A deficiency has also been linked to a number of other diseases and conditions, from cardiovascular disease to asthma.

While we can get the vitamin through food sources and supplements, the sun is our most abundant natural resource.

But balancing that out with protecting ourselves against skin cancer is increasingly critical.

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Researchers now estimate that one in 54 Americans will develop invasive melanoma — the rarest and deadliest type of skin cancer — in their lifetime. That’s up from one in 58 in 2009.

Diagnosis rates for early-stage tumors confined to the outer layers of the skin, known as in situ melanoma, rose more rapidly, with annual increases of about 3 percent a year.

Related: ‘Major Public Health Problem’

At the same time, after accounting for population shifts, the annual number of deaths from melanoma rose 1.5 percent a year, the researchers estimate.

While the screening for melanoma has improved, researchers say that alone doesn’t account for the increased number of cases. The new report in JAMA Dermatology calls for people to minimize their exposure to UV rays from the sun and tanning beds, and fatalities can often be averted with regular skin checks at the dermatologist.

An estimated 76,380 Americans will be diagnosed with invasive melanoma in 2016. Early detection and prevention, like with any cancer or disease, is the key to a cure.

Getting some sun safely, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, includes:

  • Limiting time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  • Wearing clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun — for example, long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and  broad-brimmed hats.
  • Using broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of 15 or higher, regularly and as directed.
  • Reapplying sunscreen at least every two hours, more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.

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