As the summer season sets in with longer, warmer days, many tend to go out, many times, when the sun’s rays are very strong and have an impact on health. We all know that we need to avoid sun exposure as this is widely accepted as the underlying cause for harmful effects on the skin, eye and immune system.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer which may develop anywhere on the skin. It invades the skin and can spread to other organs in the body, often with fatal consequences. In Malta, a total of 718 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in the 20-year period from 1993 to 2013, with a total of 130 deaths. The average number of deaths attributed to melanoma is 12 per year. Regular self-examination of the skin and seeking medical attention when in doubt will enhance survival rates. A surgical removal of an early stage melanoma increases survival rate of 90-95% at five years.
Melanoma is caused by exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun with cumulative exposure leading to skin cancer in later stages of life. The risk of developing melanoma is higher in somebody with fair skin and in those with a family history of melanoma. One can reduce the risk of developing melanoma by minimising exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation by preventing sunburn and continuous exposure. Special attention should be focused on children and adolescents, as they are more vulnerable.
When to Stay out of the Sun
- As a general rule, whenever someone’s shadow is shorter than his or her height, care should be taken: the shorter the shadow the more likely it is that sunburn will occur.
- Solar UV is most damaging in the 3 to 5 hours around noon when approximately 50% of daily UV is received in summer, so avoidance of bright sunshine from 11:00 to 16:00 is advisable. If this is not possible, one should try to seek shade or cover up with clothing; a hat and sunglasses.
- Watch out for the UV index. It is an indicator of the intensity of harmful UV rays around midday. The index ranges from 0 to 11+ and is an excellent guide to the recommended level of sun protection on a day-to-day basis.
What to do when UV index is High
UV index Category Recommended sun protection
0-2 Minimal Wear a hat
3-4 Low Wear a hat & sunscreen
5-6 Moderate Wear a hat, sunscreen, stay in shade 11am-4pm
7-9 High As above and preferably stay indoors 11am-4pm
10-11+ Very High As above and stay indoors 11am-4pm
- Sunburn can occur on cloudy days as well as clear days. It is the UV and not the heat rays of the sun that are harmful.
- Care should be exercised in and around water and open spaces because of the extensive contribution of UV exposure from the sky.
- The best form of protection is to wear loose-fitting, closely woven fabrics that cast a dense shadow when held up against the light.
Topical sunscreens act by absorbing, scattering or reflecting UV. The sun protection factor (SPF) gives an indication of the effectiveness of the sunscreens. For those people who want good UV protection, a high factor, broad-spectrum sunscreen should be used over those parts of the body that are not covered by clothing. An even thickness should be applied to clean, dry skin and allowed to dry for 15 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen should not be applied too thin and should be reapplied every two hours.
Occupational exposure to UV should be kept to a minimum. The risk from solar UV exposure to outdoor workers such as agricultural workers, labourers, construction workers and fishermen can be minimised by wearing appropriate tightly woven clothing and, most importantly, a brimmed hat to reduce face and neck exposure. Sunscreens can be applied to exposed skin to reduce UV exposure further.
For more information contact the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate on 23266000