August 3, 2017
When I was growing up, I lived a stone’s throw from the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound and spent time on a half-dozen beaches. Summer required getting a tan, which in my case meant getting sunburned first then suffering through the pain and peeling to finally get one.
I’m paying for it now with regular visits to a dermatologist to get my sun-damaged skin treated for actinic keratosis (AK) — precancerous growths on my head and face that Skin Cancer Foundation explains occur when skin is over-exposed to the sun’s UV rays over time. “They usually appear as thick, scaly, or crusty areas that often feel dry or rough,” MedicineNet states, adding that “Actinic keratoses occur most commonly in fair-skinned people after years of sun exposure.”
My dermatologist sprays the growths with liquid nitrogen (called cryotherapy) – one of the several treatments that can be used depending on the type of AK. I find I’m far from alone in this and lucky I’m able to treat the growths before they turn cancerous. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer afflicts more people than all other cancers combined – breast, prostate, lung, and colon. The Foundation goes on to note that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lives.
Besides the liquid nitrogen treatments, I now wear a broad-brimmed hat whenever I go out (even on cloudy days) and stay in the shade as much as possible. I also slather on a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor) if I’m going to be outside for an extended period of time. Plus I see that there’s now a wearable UV tracking sensor I can stick anywhere on exposed skin and monitor how much UV exposure I’m getting. Introduced at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the sensor is basically a very thin sticker – half the thickness of a strand of hair. You can even apply sunscreen over it.
Bottom line: Enjoy your summer, but take precautions, protect your skin and share with the doctor self-examination notes of you and your loved ones’ skin.