Ask a Nurse: The Real Death Ray!

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.


The Real Death Ray!

We are killing ourselves bit by bit daily. We all have heard how deadly sun damage is, but none of us really believe it. We still flock to beaches and tanning salons, patiently frying our skin hoping to achieve that perfect tan. We compare tan lines with our friends, half-heartedly complain about our recent sunburn (while secretly thinking we look great with a sunburned face!), and pray for sunny days so we can bake ourselves to a crisp!
Can we talk statistics, folks?

  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime
  • Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon
  • About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
  • One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 62 minutes)
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.
  • One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
  • A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns at any age

Indoor Tanning Statistics

  • Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is a proven human carcinogen.
  • Ten minutes in a sunbed matches the cancer-causing effects of 10 minutes in the Mediterranean summer sun
  • Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances. Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes, and solar UV radiation.
  • Seventy-one percent of tanning salon patrons are girls and women aged 16-29.
  • Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors

It seems that we have heard these facts before but, as soon as late spring hits, we become brain dead and put ourselves and our children at risk. Think about this-do you really want to contribute to your own children dying a horrible and painful death? Of course not! We need to take care of our children and ourselves! I am sure none of us are thinking, “Oh, I know tanning may kill me. I realize I may die before my children are grown or before I can be a grandparent, but it is more important for me to look pretty and be tan.”

Friends, it is that serious. We need to re-vamp our idea of beauty.

This is one of my daughters, a fair beauty. If she were to try to get a dark tan it would look awful. It would also cause her to have a much higher chance of getting skin cancer. Fair skinned people with light hair and eyes have the highest risk, although darker skinned people also can get skin cancer. Sometimes darker skinned individuals think they are immune to sun damage and they expose themselves more. Much of the damage from the sun is below the surface of the skin. Dermatologists have developed a way to see this damage with a UV light photograph. It is very expensive to use, so it is not used widely yet. A woman who got melanoma agreed to allow her photos to be shared. In the regular light, she looks like she has little to no sun damage. In the UV light, you can see how damaged her skin really is.

(Credit: University of Colorado Cancer Center)

Ok, now what can you do to prevent skin cancer?

  • Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing to protect exposed skin.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
  • Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Avoid indoor tanning. (

You should use sunscreen DAILY, every day of the year! Cloudy days, cold days, days when you drive in a car, sit near a window (even a closed one!). Maybe if we start doing these things, our kids will live longer, have less skin cancer, and model correct behavior to their children.

Have a great week, friends! I am going to an outdoor picnic with my family, guess I will go buy a new bottle of sunscreen!

Be Well,

Nurse  Pam

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