The largest organ in the human body is the skin. Its function is to protect all body cavities which contain vital organs, and to also provide insulation. The skin makes up multiple layers of cells, with squamous cells on the top layer, basal cells in the middle and melanocytes at the bottom. Because squamous cells make up the top layer, they are flat and slough off as new ones replace them. The basal cells that lie underneath eventually dry out and die, eventually turning into squamous cells that shed continuously. The layer underneath basal cells, melanocytes, are responsible for producing melanin, or skin pigment. Melanin helps to protect the lower layers of the skin against the sun.
Although the sun may be 93 million miles from the Earth, its vibrant rays have a profound effect on the world’s distant inhabitants. All life on Earth benefits from the brightest star in the solar system. Plants require the sun’s energy to carry out photosynthesis, while humans require the sun to produce Vitamin D, a process that occurs deep within the layers of the skin.
Unfortunately, too much sunlight can cause the division of skin cells to spiral out of control, so they divide rapidly and are unable to stop. The abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells that have mutated is also known as cancer.
The sun produces ultraviolet (UV) radiation as its rays of energy travel to the Earth’s surface. Exposure to radiation, regardless of where it comes from, mutates the cells by changing their genetic makeup. Suddenly, the affected cells are not able to inhibit their division, and that is how tumors grow. Some cancers take years to develop, while other forms could be onset.
In the skin, there are three types of cancer that are the most commonly diagnosed, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. The suffix “noma” means cancer, so these types of cancer affect the three outermost layers of the skin.
Knowing that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosis in Kitsap County, Nicole Anthony RN, Esther Fowler RN and Kristen Freeman RN of the Olympic College Nursing Program staff decided to stage an information booth in the Bremer Student Center, sharing knowledge on the causes of skin cancer and how to avoid it. Their table provided pamphlets with preventative measures to take against developing cancer and free sunscreen samples.
Skin cancer does not discriminate, it affects anyone who has had exposure to the sun; however it can be prevented. Some precautions include wearing sunscreen with an adequate sun protection factor (SPF) of fifteen or higher, wearing a two-inch brimmed hat and wearing protective clothing. Even when it is not evidently sunny, the harmful radiation from the sun still reaches the Earth, so wearing sunscreen is recommended on a daily basis.
As summer is quickly approaching, the intent of the Skin Cancer Awareness table was to educate and inform Olympic College students on ways to protect themselves while enjoying the gratuitous sunlight.