International travel usually means more time spent outdoors—and a higher risk of skin cancer.
When trekking to foreign countries, the responsible traveler takes measures to prevent infectious diseases. They update their vaccines, pack mosquito repellent and buy water purification tablets to ward off nasty bugs.
But how many travelers give a thought to skin cancer? When traveling and living abroad, we naturally spend more time outside than we do in everyday life. We walk, sightsee, lounge on beaches and loiter in sidewalk cafes. More time outside means more sun exposure, which can, of course, lead to skin cancer. Specifically, skin cancer is caused primarily by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
People living and traveling at lower latitudes, higher altitudes and in cities, where sun rays bounce off concrete, are at the highest risk. However, skin cancer is a universal concern. Whether traveling in the Eastern Caribbean or Eastern Europe, everyone should take precautions against the sun’s damaging rays.
The two most common types of skin cancer — basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas — are highly curable. However, melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is the most dangerous because it tends to spread throughout the body. While all skin cancers can be fatal, melanoma is the most deadly.
Globally in 2000, more than 200,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed and 65,000 melanoma-associated deaths occurred, according to the Work Health Organization (WHO). Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV radiation, the agency reports.
And, the incidence of melanoma is increasing. For example, between 1972 and 2002 in the U.S., the number of new cases of melanoma increased by 150 percent and the melanoma mortality rate spiked by 44 percent, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.
The damaging effects of UV radiation accumulate over the years, and skin cancer is often the result of decades of exposure to the sun, reports the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health Safety (COOHS). So, a daily habit of protecting your skin from sun exposure is the best way to defend against skin cancer.
Follow these simple tips to help protect yourself from skin cancer:
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day. Apply it 20 minutes before heading outdoors so that it absorbs into the skin before you begin to perspire.
- No matter what SPF you choose, reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating – even if you’re using a so-called “sports” or “water-resistant” sunscreen.
- Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas, including the face, ears, feet and hands.
- Use a high-SPF balm on your lips.
- Even if the weather is hot, consider wearing long sleeves, pants and a wide-brimmed hat. Tight-woven fabrics and dark colors provide the most protection.
- Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays to protect your eyes and the skin around them.
- Avoid midday sun and seek the shade – but that doesn’t let you off the hook for sunscreen. UV rays still seep under umbrellas and trees.
- Keep in mind that children and teens are particularly at risk for skin cancer, so if you are traveling with kids, make sure they take the precautions above.
Sources: CDC, COOHS, WHO
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