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Debunking Common Skin Cancer Misconceptions

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer Michael F. Sabitoni

It’s well-established that skin cancer is a significant health concern that affects millions of Americans and Canadians every year. Construction workers are at particular risk for skin cancer since they often spend a lot of time working outdoors. Since skin cancer is so prevalent in our country and our industry, there’s plenty of information available about sun exposure, detecting skin cancer, proper sun protection and related topics. However, many misconceptions about skin cancer still exist.

“The LHSFNA and LIUNA have been working for over twenty years to spread awareness about the dangers of sun exposure to Laborers and their families,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Trustee Michael F. Sabitoni. “It’s important we continue to provide the most accurate information and resources to ensure our brothers and sisters are able to take control of their health and reduce their risk for skin cancer.”

Skin cancer is incredibly common, but it’s also the most preventable cancer given the proper measures. That’s why it’s important to debunk any myths about the disease that may promote dangerous behavior or mislead someone about their risk. By identifying and dispelling common misconceptions, you can make informed decisions about sun safety.

Misconception #1: Only fair-skinned people are at risk for skin cancer

The truth: Those with lighter skin are more susceptible to skin cancer. However, no one is immune to skin cancer. People of color and those with darker complexions have a lower risk for developing skin cancer, but are more likely to die from the disease when it does develop. This is because skin cancer tends to be detected at later, more progressed stages in these groups, which makes it more challenging to treat. Read more about detecting skin cancer in all skin types.

Misconception #2: Only direct sunlight causes skin cancer

The truth: Sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer, but the sun’s ultraviolet rays can still cause skin damage on chilly, cloudy or overcast days. Additionally, there are other factors that can contribute to your individual risk for skin cancer. These include ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure from tanning beds and occupational equipment (like X-ray machines and even welding flames), family history, increased age and a weakened immune system. Read more about protecting yourself from the sun year round.

Misconception #3: A “base tan” provides protection against skin cancer

The truth: Some believe that a sunburn is the only mark of sun damage, but in reality, a tan is a sign of skin damage. A tan occurs when, in response to UV damage, your body sends melanin to the surface of your skin in an attempt to prevent further injury. This can provide a minor protective effect, but is easily wiped out by additional UV exposure. Overall, the longer you expose your skin to UV damage – tan or not – the more you increase your risk for developing skin cancer. Read more about what the sun is actually doing to our skin when we tan.

Misconception #4: You have to sunbathe to get enough vitamin D

The truth: Sunlight is an important source of vitamin D, but many overestimate the amount of sun needed to maintain healthy levels. In fact, most people get enough of the essential nutrient from a combination of normal daily sun exposure and diet. Some foods (such as tuna, eggs and salmon) naturally contain vitamin D and other foods are often fortified with it (like some cereals). If deficiency is a concern, vitamin D can be taken as a supplement. Read more about protecting yourself from the sun while getting adequate vitamin D.

Practicing Sun Safety

Everyone – regardless of skin color, age or lifestyle – should be practicing sun-safe behaviors to avoid potentially deadly skin cancer. If you’re going to be spending time outdoors, it’s important to wear sunscreen, protective clothing and seek shade when possible. Additionally, performing regular skin screenings for abnormal sun spots or growths is another useful tool in your arsenal against skin cancer. Identifying cancerous spots early on can help ensure prompt treatment, which increases the likelihood of survival.

Every year, the LHSFNA launches its annual Sun Sense Plus campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of sun protection and the dangers of skin cancer and heat illness by distributing products and educational materials to LIUNA members. LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, training centers, LECET funds and signatory contractors can order sunscreen, lip balm, neck flaps, cooling cloths, insect repellent towelettes, tick keys, pamphlets and posters by using this order form.

[Hannah Sabitoni]

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