Margate Beach Patrol Capt. Chuck LaBarre has noticed his lifeguards, who spend countless hours outdoors, break out of the stigma of not being cautious in the sun.
“I think the guards are more concerned about it than in years past,” LaBarre said. “Even the younger guards are more educated and astute to the effects of it.”
As the prevalence of skin cancer continues to rise, there are many factors for people to be aware of that will raise or lower the risk.
According to Magesh Sundaram, medical director of surgical oncology at AtlantiCare in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey is about average in terms of melanoma incidence rates. That said, most of South Jersey ranks above that.
The CDC says that from 2012 to 2016, Cape May County (46.5), Atlantic County (24.8) and Ocean County (34.3) all sit above the average in terms of the age-adjusted melanoma rate per 100,000 people, while Cumberland County is lower than average (17.7).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that the UV index tends to be higher when the sun is higher above the horizon during the summer and in the middle of the day. However, clouds could lower the index. While that is true, other factors play into it as well.
The UV index typically ranges from 1 to 10 in New Jersey, though it can be higher in latitudes near the equator.
UV radiation can reflect off surfaces, so “while a large beach umbrella may seem protective from the sun, there is about 30% of UV radiation that is reflected under the umbrella from nearby beach sand or concrete sidewalks,” Sundaram said.
Elevation also impacts the UV index. Colorado, for example, generally has a higher UV index than South Jersey, which sits at the same latitude north of the equator. The UV index increases by 10% for every 3,280 feet above sea level.
Weather patterns impact the UV index on a day-to-day basis. Extra sun protection is required after a rainy or stormy day.
“When the rain comes, it clears the air up. Then the sun intensity is strong and you can get a high UV index,” said Jim Eberwine, retired National Weather Service meteorologist and current Absecon emergency management coordinator.
In those instances, a UV alert may be issued. According to the EPA, an alert is sent out when the UV index is at least a “high” 6 and in the top 5% of values possible for that particular day of the year in that location.
UV alerts are passed down to the public through the Weather Service and those who sign up for alerts. Twenty-one alerts were issued between 2008 and 2018, but none was issued in 2018.
Avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts all reduce UV exposure, along with applying sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater every two hours.
In 2016, 82,476 new cases of melanomas of the skin were reported in the United States, and 8,188 people died from them, CDC data show.
Compared to other cancers, skin cancer has the highest increase in the amount spent treating it.
Sundaram said medical costs from skin cancer have risen from $3.6 billion from 2002 to 2006 to $8.1 billion from 2007 to 2011. Other cancer costs have risen at a much slower pace, around 25%.
Not all skin cancers are melanomas. The two main non-melanoma skin cancers are basal cells and squamous cells, which rarely metastasize, or spread.
“The majority of basal- and squamous-cell skin cancers are found in the skin of the head and neck, as well as hands and arms. ... Melanoma can occur on any part of the skin surface, and sometimes in places we don’t think of as skin,” Sundaram said.
That means different treatment options.
“From a management perspective, these (basal and squamous cells) are primarily locally invasive in the skin,” Sundaram said. That means medical staff can treat these without worrying about other parts of the body.
LaBarre said he knows many lifeguards who have developed skin cancers.
“Since working on the beach in 1987, a lot of my dad’s lifeguard buddies have had it. My dad himself has had it,” LeBarre said.
When a lifeguard is issued their gear, LaBarre said, a baseball cap or straw hat is part of the package. Now, sunscreen bottles are issued, and more are always available. The city also is looking to provide skin cancer screenings, LaBarre said.
Even outside the summer, though, it’s best to be prepared year-round. Sundaram stressed the importance of skig cancer screenings in detecting cancers early.
“On a sunny winter’s day, I will put some on my face. Sounds crazy, but I’ve been doing it for years,” said Jeff Steiner, who splits his time between Cape May and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.