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How to up your sun safety game this summer

This blog post was submitted by Dalhousie medical student Rachel Dorey

As a third-year medical student at Dalhousie University, I’m passionate about raising awareness of skin health and melanoma skin cancer. May is the perfect time to start – summer is just around the corner and it’s both Melanoma Awareness Month and Sun Awareness Month.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, with increasing incidence rates across Canada. This is particularly concerning in Nova Scotia, as our province has the second-highest rates of melanoma in the country.

More sun, more risk
What explains the high rates in Nova Scotia? One significant factor is our love of outdoor sports and activities, such as hiking, fishing and biking, where we can enjoy our province’s natural beauty.

While these activities do bring physical and mental health benefits, they also mean more UV exposure. Our warmer temperatures and longer summers can also play a role in raising the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers for Nova Scotians.

Work outside safely
Another factor is that a large portion of our population work in outdoor occupations, such as fishing, construction and farming. People who work outside experience prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) from the sun, and have a 2.5 to 3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer compared to those who work inside. When working outside, be sure to cover up with UV protective clothing, wear a hat and eyewear with shields to help safeguard against UV damage.

While you can’t eliminate all risk factors for melanoma, such as family history, practising sun safety every day can significantly reduce your chance of developing skin cancer.

That’s why it’s key to get the message out. Sun Safe Nova Scotia is a coalition of agencies and individuals working to reduce the number of skin cancer diagnoses and deaths. To them, it all comes down to making sun safety part of your daily routine.

Plan ahead
Whenever you’ll be spending time outside for work or play, wear protective clothing such as long-sleeve shirts and wide-brimmed hats. Check the UV index before you head out and plan your outdoor activities to avoid peak exposure hours – between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you must be outside then, seek the shade and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30, reapplying it every two hours.

Keep in mind that people with black or brown skin tones are not immune to skin cancer. Studies have found they are four times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma at an advanced stage, when the cancer has progressed or spread to other parts of the body.

Check your skin
This highlights another important aspect of melanoma awareness: always check your skin, note any unusual changes and discuss these with your family doctor or other health-care provider.

Ultimately, there’s a lot we can do to do lower the melanoma rates in Nova Scotia. By raising awareness, advocating for sun safety policies in high-risk environments and fostering a “Sun Safe Play…Everyday” mindset, we can make meaningful progress to improve skin health for all Nova Scotians.

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