THUNDER BAY – Editor’s Note: Knowing firsthand the health consequences of failing to take adequate precautions when in the sun, we offer this reminder about the dangers of too-much sun and simple precautions you can take to protect yourself today- and in the future.
If you love fishing and want to enjoy it into your senior years, then don’t mess around with the sun. That’s the advice of a leading plastic and reconstructive surgeon who has treated several thousand patients over the course of his 15-year career for skin cancer and melanoma.
“As the days grow longer and warmer, and the sun intensifies in it’s strength, anglers need to take precautions against the sun’s harmful rays,” says Dr. Sam Economou, who leads Plastic Surgery Consultants, Ltd. (www.plasticsurgeryconsultants.net), a plastic and reconstructive surgery practice located in Edina, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis.
The reason is simple. Skin cancer is on the rise. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and of these, about 68,000 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, are diagnosed. While more people are detecting cancer earlier, increasing their chances of survival, cancer rates are actually rising, especially among young people who use tanning booths and do not use sunblock when outside.
“Fishing is about spending time outdoors. And more often than not, most people enjoy fishing when the weather is nice and the sun is at its strongest. That puts many of America’s 50 million anglers at risk for skin cancer,” says Dr. Economou. “The more time you spend outdoors fishing, the greater risk of exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation and sunburns.”
Here are some tips for anglers from Dr. Economou about how to reduce your risk to skin cancer without giving up your favorite sport.
Apply Sunblock. When you’re on the water you want to catch fish, not get skin cancer. Always apply sunblock lotion at least 30 minutes before going out into the sun, before you start to perspire, allowing the sunblock to soak into your skin. Apply sunblock lotion frequently throughout the day. Use a sunblock with a SPF rating of at least 30 an arms, legs, face and neck and a water-resistant SPF of 50+ on your nose and the top of your ears.
Wear a Hat. The most susceptible place on your body for skin cancer is your head and face. Believe me, reconstructive surgery on the nose and ears is challenging. Whether it’s sunny or cloudy out, at the very least, wear a cap with a front bill. Ideally wear a cap with both a front bill and a back bill to cover up the back of your neck. Cover your head, too. You can get skin cancer on your scalp even if you have a full head of hair. Always cover your ears, nose and back of your neck with sunblock.
Polarized UV Blocking Sunglasses. Wear sunglasses to protect your retinas from harmful UV rays. Sunglasses that wrap around your face offer the best protection. Polarized lenses help cut the glare, help you see more fish and protect your eyes from flying fishing lures. This is one piece of equipment that every angler should invest in. It’s just as important as buying a high quality rod and reel.
Wear Protective Clothing. If you have a high risk or history of skin cancer you should look into protective clothing. Saltwater flats guides who spend their days in the sun in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and California know a thing or two about skin cancer. That’s why they cover up. Even on the hottest days, they wear long but lightweight, light-colored pants, long-sleeve shirts, caps, gloves, and lightweight shoes. Saltwater guides also rely upon light-weight face and head masks or what downhill skiers call gators, which they can pull up over the nose, just under their sunglasses and over their ears. Wear shirts and pants that are specially made to block the sun, and wick away moisture to keep you cool while out on the water. Look for shirts and pants that offer a UPF rating of at least 30+, as recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, to protect against harmful UVA/UVB rays. Remember, UV rays are present even on cloudy days.
Avoid Sunburns. Repeated sunburns over time can cause significant damage to your skin. That’s why it’s important to avoid them. Take extra care to prevent your kids from getting sunburned. Severe sunburns as a child are a leading risk factor in developing skin cancer as an adult. Sunburns happen though, despite our best intentions. If you do receive a severe sunburn, treat the sunburned area with an aloe-based lotion, take cool showers, and if you’re experiencing headaches, take a pain reliever.
Stay Hydrated. To maintain healthy skin, don’t forget to stay hydrated while fishing by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and avoiding wind burn. When your skin dries out or is not hydrated properly, it’s more susceptible to sunburn and long term skin damage.
Conduct Skin Cancer Self-examinations. If you have a fair complexion, multiple freckles and moles, and experienced severe sunburns as a child, you have some of the leading risk factors for skin cancer. Take this seriously, especially if you spend a fair amount of time outside working or playing (like fishing). At least once a month, before you get into or just out of the shower, look at your skin. Look at moles and freckles to see if you notice and changes in their shape, size, color or asymmetry. Make an appointment once a year with your doctor or a dermatologist to look at your skin as part of an annual exam. Especially watch moles and freckles on high risk areas of your body, the face, nose, ears, the back of your hands and your calves.