Sun Smart & Cancer Cautious

Tips for Protecting Yourself and Vulnerable Populations From Skin Cancer


Living in the Sunshine State certainly has its perks — beautiful beaches, warm weather, and plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy year-round. 

But with great sunshine comes great responsibility. Not only is it important to think about skin protection for yourself, but parents of small children and caregivers for the elderly need to be especially vigilant about keeping the young and old safe from harmful UV rays.

To learn more about the impacts that the sun can have on our more vulnerable populations, we spoke with Dr. Linwood Bond, a board-certified dermatologist at Watson Clinic South since 2005.

Why Sun Protection Matters

Florida’s sunny climate means that we’re exposed to more UV radiation than many other states. This increased exposure raises the risk of developing skin cancer, which is why it’s so important to take proactive measures to protect our skin.

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells, typically occurring when DNA damage, caused by UV radiation, triggers mutations. These mutations can lead to tumors, which can sometimes be malignant. 

According to Bond, the most common types of skin cancer he sees are basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers are less dangerous when caught early, which is why prevention and early detection are so vital.

Basal cell carcinoma is perhaps the most common type of skin cancer, often appearing as a waxy bump. Squamous cell carcinoma looks much like a red, scaly patch or a sore that doesn’t heal, while melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, can develop in existing moles or suddenly appear as a new dark spot on the skin.

Who Is Most at Risk?

Bond says the rates of skin cancer are trending slightly upward in Florida and across the United States, “most likely due to the aging population in the state and country.”

In general, he explains, the elderly tend to develop skin cancer at higher rates than younger people because of the cumulative effect of many years spent in the sun. Other vulnerable populations include those with fair skin and light colored eyes and hair because these individuals have less melanin in their skin to protect against dangerous UV rays.

Parents of young children also need to be mindful of the impacts of UV damage. “Children don’t get much skin cancer, as compared to the elderly; however, extensive exposure to the sun as a child will increase the chance of developing skin cancer at a younger age,” Bond explains. 

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are only about 300 cases a year of melanoma in children younger than 20, accounting for just 3% of pediatric cancers in the United States. However, it’s estimated that the number of new melanoma cases in 2024 will increase by 7.3%, and many of these cases started with excess sun exposure in childhood.

Preventing Skin Cancer

“Little kids can’t get skin cancer,” is just one of many common misconceptions people have about skin cancer, but it’s certainly not the only one. 

Some people believe that since vitamin D is such a crucial nutrient for our health and vitality, sun exposure (without sunscreen) is necessary. “It’s generally recommended that people obtain vitamin D from their diet,” Bond clarifies. 

Another myth, he reports, is that wearing any shirt or hat will do the trick when it comes to protecting you from the sun. 

“Clothing that is UPF rated protects better from the sun, but UV rays from the sun easily go through most clothing, which doesn’t offer much protection.” That’s why it’s so important to wear UPF-rated clothing (including a broad-brimmed hat) in combination with sunscreen.

Children’s skin is more sensitive to UV radiation. Make sure your kids wear UPF-rated clothing, hats, and sunglasses and be sure to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen — the best possible line of defense — with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours (and after swimming and sweating).

Perhaps the best news is that sunscreens of 2024 are nothing like the sticky, messy concoctions used decades ago. Now, there are formulations that provide better, longer lasting protection, and are more comfortable to wear.

Of course, older adults also need to follow these steps, particularly if they’re on medications that make their skin more sensitive to the effects of the sun or are not able to perform basic tasks of independent living.

Encourage your loved ones to wear protective clothing, apply sunscreen regularly, and, perhaps most importantly, conduct routine skin checks. If there’s a new blemish that doesn’t go away or changes, consult a dermatologist. 

Enjoy the Sun – Safely

Living in Florida offers so many joys, but you need to protect your skin. Whether you’re a parent protecting your little ones, a caregiver for an elderly loved one, or simply someone who loves the outdoors, these tips can help you enjoy the sun safely.

Here in Florida, staying sun-smart is a year-round commitment. Protection is the best prevention!

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