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Photographers Beware & Be Aware: Protect Yourselves from the Sun

by Michael Fulks

 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer will occur in more than one million people within the U.S. this year alone, making it our most prevalent cancer.  The U.S. National Institute of Health reports that the risk of developing skin cancer is affected by where you live.  For example, people in Australia and South Africa are at especially high risk.  (You can find out your level of risk by contacting your local health department.)

 

Exposure to the sun and its harmful UV rays is the leading cause of skin cancer, especially for light-skinned individuals. SKIN CANCER IS NOT A TRIVIAL CANCER.  As with any cancer, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment are the key factors.  If the cancer is caught early, the resultant scarring is easily acceptable. The larger a tumor has grown, however, the greater the risk that the resultant scarring can be disfiguring, having required skin flaps or grafts.  Please don't endanger yourself by saying, "It won't happen to me!"

 

Over the past couple of months, in the Apogee Photo Newsletter, we mentioned the skin cancer scare endured by Marla, one of our staff members, who had to undergo potentially disfiguring surgery to her face. (Marla wants to thank everyone for the many thoughts and prayers.) And while that procedure went well (the doctors did a wonderful job of rebuilding her nose), she recently learned that she’d have to endure yet another surgery, due to a doctor's missed diagnosis. As a result of the trials of the last two months, Marla and I decided it was important to reach an audience outside ourselves, and we wish to pass on the following information and advice:

 

First, as photographers, many of us are often in the sun all day. Growing up in an era when tans were essential for social acceptance, many of us endured painful sunburns while trying to attain a bronzed, supposedly "healthy" look. Only now do we realize what a mistake we made as, twenty and thirty years later, the consequences of our exposure takes its toll through a variety of maladies. Beyond premature aging of the skin, many of us are now at risk for skin cancer and have to deal with treatments and surgeries to remove cancerous and precancerous lesions.

 

Protecting the skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun is essential for everyone, no matter what your age.  Whenever possible, avoid overexposure--especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Although sunscreen was unknown to me as a youngster, these days I carry a tube of 45 or 50 SPF sunscreen in all my camera bags as well as in the glove box of my car.  Applying it is at the top of my checklist before I set out for a shoot. However, finding a sunscreen product that isn’t greasy or smelly and doesn’t drip into your eyes when you begin to sweat has been a challenge. Neutrogena makes one that fills the bill, and it also doubles as a moisturizer.

 

Hats are essential, too, not merely in the winter to hold in heat, but in all seasons to minimize sun damage to heads and faces, the most common locations of skin cancer lesions. The Apogee Photo Staff are proud wearers of Tilley hats (www.tilley.com). They’re comfortable, rugged, and the airflow models keep your head cool even in summer. The brims are wide enough to protect necks, ears, and noses. In addition, many models are stylish enough to wear any time you’re outside. But don't forget to protect the rest of your body, as well, with light-colored, tightly woven, protective clothing.

 

The second bit of advice is read about skin cancers and be your own health advocate. After being misdiagnosed for years, Marla finally listened to her "gut feelings" and insisted on biopsies that revealed Basal Cell Carcinomas. She began to research skin cancer and became increasingly alarmed that another growth on her nose should also be a concern. An additional biopsy showed yet another basal cell carcinoma. Had she not advocated for herself, Marla’s results could have been catastrophic. She recommends visiting <www.skincancer.org> for information about the various forms of skin cancer, including photos and descriptions of cancers that matched her own. She urges us all to remember that doctors are not the gods many of them would have us believe.  Don’t be afraid to question and even get angry if you feel your concerns are not being taken seriously. AND, be sure to routinely check your body for questionable new lesions. 

 

Thirdly, schedule routine check-ups with a dermatologist. Be sure to find one who can meet your needs and is knowledgeable and willing to spend the time needed to be thorough in his or her exam of your entire body (especially the face, head and back of neck) and who is also caring, understanding and compassionate. 

 

Finally, with the fast approach of winter, many of us are tempted to neglect sun protection. We mistakenly think that sunburns and sun damage are strictly summertime hazards. My father once spent two days in the hospital as a result of a sunburn he suffered in the middle of winter. As I pulled on my Tilley's for my morning walk today, I remembered that. 

 

For other web sites relating to skin cancers, just put skin cancer in your browsers search box or visit and surf around these sites:  (Knowledge is power.)

 

The American Academy of Dermatology: http://www.aad.org

 

The Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/skin-cancer/DS00190

 

National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/skin

 

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