Medicare Memo: Have Fun in the Sun—Safely

Spring is here, and summer’s right around the corner. That means tending the garden, picnicking outdoors, and playing outside with the grandkids. It also means it’s time to talk about skin cancer.

Skin cancer should be a serious concern for everyone. It’s the most common type of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year.

Anyone can have skin cancer, but seniors are particularly at risk. As with most other types of cancer, your risk of getting skin cancer goes up as you age. Also, many seniors today were active sunbathers in the 1970s, before the risks of sun exposure were widely known.

Practice Prevention: You and Yours

The good news is that there are lots of ways to have fun outside while playing it safe. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and those you love:

  • Avoid the sun in the middle of the day. For most people in North America, the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., even on a cloudy day.
  • Wear sunscreen—all year long. Choose one that feels comfortable to you and has an SPF of at least 15. Apply it on all your exposed skin, including the back of your hands and neck. Reapply it after swimming or sweating heavily.
  • Wear protective clothing. Look for dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your limbs. A hat with a broad brim and sunglasses are good choices, too.
  • Avoid tanning beds. They can give off harmful UV rays that can raise your cancer risk.
  • Know your medications. Some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. These include antibiotics, ibuprofen and certain high blood pressure and diabetes medications. Be extra careful if you’re taking one of these.
  • Get vitamin D safely. Medical experts are looking into how getting less sun may mean less vitamin D for some people. Talk to your doctor about getting enough vitamin D from what you eat or from supplements.
  • Start ‘em young. Most of the safety tips in this list work for your loved ones, too. Take extra care to protect young children in your care, since early exposure can lead to higher risks of cancer later on. Staying in the shade is the best bet for babies under six months, since they can’t wear sunscreen yet and can burn easily in the sun.

Keep Alert: Early Detection is Key

Detecting cancer in its early stages often makes it easier to treat before it gets worse. So make sure you’re doing skin cancer self-exams every month. If you see new moles or growths, or changes in ones you already have, make sure to tell your doctor. You can also check with your doctor to see whether your annual Medicare preventive visit (covered by Medicare Part B) includes a skin cancer check, depending on your risk factors.

–This information was provided by Medicare Made Clear

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