It wasn’t always like this. Historically, pale skin was considered a mark of wealth, leisure and social standing. For example, Nofret, the wife of a high priest in Ancient Egypt, used powders and lotions like myrrh and frankincense made from tree resins and used pigments like yellow ochre to make her skin pale and clear. Until the late 19th century, women continuing avoiding the sun or protecting their skin with hats and/or parasols, floor length dresses and long sleeves.
However, the trend to whiteness would come to a halt in the new century. If a single person could be credited for popularizing the “tan”, it would Coco Chanel, the designer who bronzed herself on a yacht in the Mediterranean and declared in 1929, “A girl simply has to be tanned.” It didn’t take long for celebrity males to pick up the trend and image of the tanned body spread. Ironically, within a few decades, bronzed skin, not pale skin, had come to represent money, leisure time and, in addition, good health and attractiveness.
Fast forward to 2014. Decades of being overexposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and indoor tanning beds has resulted in skin cancer being one of the fastest rising of all cancers in Canada.
There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Most cases of skin cancer are either basal or squamous cell carcinomas. They tend to develop later on in life on areas of the body that have been exposed many times to the sun. They progress slowly and rarely cause death because they usually do not spread to other parts of the body. Although they are most often removed by surgery, they can cause scarring, disfigurement or loss of function in certain parts of the body. It is expected that over 76,000 news cases of these two types of skin cancer in Canada will be diagnosed this year.
Malignant melanomas are different. They are the type most likely to be fatal. Unlike other skin cancers, they happen earlier in life, develop on almost any part of the body and spread rapidly. It is especially hard to stop once it has spread to other parts of the body but it can be readily treated in its earliest stages. Over 6,500 new cases are expected to be diagnosed this year.
The rapid rise of skin cancers has become an important health problem with significant economic cost. Surveys show that people are spending more time in the sun without using the recommended forms of protection.
1. taking special precautions to prevent children from overexposure,
2. using sunscreen properly,
3. planning outdoor activities before 9:00 a.m. and after 4:00 p.m. when the sun is not at its strongest or at any time of the day when the UV index is 3 or less,
4. wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses and,
5. seeking shade.
Similarly, the practice of using tanning beds with their intense doses of UV radiation needs to be stopped.
Skin cancer is a largely preventable disease. With the onset of long awaited summer weather, the health professionals at the Agassiz Community Health Centre encourage you to be sun safe this summer.
– submitted by the Agassiz Community Health Centre