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Dangerous Exposures: Sun and Skin
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a report entitled, "Ultraviolent Radiation: A Hazard to Children and Adolescents."(1) The bottom line is clear — sun exposure is a real health threat and you and your children may not always be as well-protected as you may think. As we age we become more aware and protective of our skin. But it is exposure in childhood and adolescence than can set the stage for skin cancers and problems later on.
Avoid The Sun Now; Reduce Cancer Risk Later
Because body tissues are in a state of rapid growth and development, childhood and adolescence are often considered to contain "critical periods of vulnerability" when newly developing cells and tissues are especially susceptible to effects of toxic exposures, including the sun. Typically, because of aged-related behavior and lifestyle including more opportunities for outside time and more risk taking behaviors, approximately 25% of lifetime sun exposure occurs before 18 years of age.
The Risk to Eyes and SkinThe sun's rays cause cancer. This was recognized in 1992 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and ongoing research since then has provided an increased understanding of the details and extent of the problem. The sun’s rays are 95% ultraviolet A (UVA) and 5% UVB. UVA rays are constant during the day and during the year, while UVB rays are stronger in the summer, at midday, closer to the equator, and at high altitudes. Overexposure to both kinds of rays is considered dangerous for skin and for eyes.
Yes, children's eyes are also at risk for extreme sun exposure. The child or adolescent who is out without sunglasses and a hat with a reasonable (4") brim at the pool, ballpark or beach can experience photokeratitis, or corneal burns. Chronic exposure increases the risk of developing cataracts.
CarcinomasBasal cell and squamous cell carcinomas make up about 95% of skin cancers. They occur primarily in the sun-exposed areas of fair skinned people. While they used to be most common in the older generation, the incidence in under-40-year-olds has been increasing dramatically(2).
Basal cell carcinomas are not fatal, but if they aren’t removed, they can cause extensive damage to the skin, tissue, and bone surrounding them. They tend to recur in the same place and once you’ve had one, your chance of another is increased. On the face, ears and neck, basal cell carcinomas can look like a pearly white or waxy bump that may bleed, crust, or form a depressed center and may have visible blood vessels. On the back and chest, they may look like flat, scaly, brown, or flesh colored patches and may grow as large as six inches. The location of basal cell carcinomas on the body has extended from primarily the head and neck to the torso which likely reflects both outdoor tanning and artificial tanning device use.
Squamous cell cancers usually grow slowly. When treated early, they cause no problems, but rarely, if left untreated, they can destroy healthy tissue nearby and spread to other organs. Squamous cell cancers may appear as firm, red nodules or flat scaly crusted lesions on the face, lip, ears, neck, hands or arms or as an ulcer or flat white patch inside your mouth, anus, or genitals.
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are treated with freezing, surgery, cauterization, laser, or radiation, depending on their size and location.