When you think about exciting reading, technical studies published in industry journals probably don’t make your list. Such works are usually dry, dull, and terribly difficult for most of us to even understand.
But sometimes a study so relevant sneaks through that it makes us sit up and take notice. That was what happened in 2012 when the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the case of then-69-year-old Bill McElligott.
For the most part, McElligott was an ordinary retiree. He’d spent nearly 30 years driving an unairconditioned milk truck around Chicago, a nine-hour route that often subjected him to incredible heat.
It also exposed him to something more insidious: sunlight. And that exposure was evident as soon as anyone looked at his face.
Though the right side of McElligott visage looked normal enough, the left side was a ruin of sagging skin, rutted wrinkles, and craggy bumps.
Though the driver had kept his window rolled up during the years of delivery, ultraviolet A (UVA) rays had still filtered through, leading to a condition called unilateral dermatoheliosis.
“Chronic UVA exposure can result in thickening of the epidermis and stratum corneum, as well as destruction of elastic fibers,” wrote Drs. Jennifer R.S. Gordon and Joaquin C. Brieva, the study’s authors.
“Although exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays is linked to a higher rate of photocarcinogenesis (i.e., sun-caused cancer), UVA has also been shown to induce substantial DNA mutations and direct toxicity, leading to the formation of skin cancer.”
Gordon personally treated McElligott, making sure that he used sunscreen and got regularly screened for cancer. Yet trying to avoid the negative effects of UVA rays is challenging for everyone, even if we don’t drive a delivery truck.
UVA rays comprise 95 percent of the radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, making them difficult to avoid. Still, there are some steps you can take to minimize the damage.
Broad-spectrum sunblock is one obvious answer, and given that UVA radiation penetrates clouds, you should wear it even on gloomy days.
You should also keep your car window rolled up to minimize exposure to other kinds of harmful rays.
In fact, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology discovered that more American skin-cancer cases appear on the left side of the body, a finding consistent with U.S. driving patterns.
Staying inside during the hottest times of the day helps, too.
“Men should be wearing hat as well,” Canadian Skin Patient Alliance’s Christine Janus said. “The top spots for skin cancer for men is on their head and back. …
“Wear sunscreen constantly. … If your skin looks or feels different, rough like sandpaper for example, get it checked — don’t wait.”
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