HEALTH LINES: Being sun smart improves odds against skin cancer



Skin cancer is a lifestyle disease, affecting all ages, genders and races.One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. More than 14 million Americans have had skin cancer. Melanoma is the most dangerous type and kills almost 10,000 Americans every year. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in north Mississippi.

According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, you are at high risk for all types of skin cancer if you have at least five of these criteria:

• Fair skin, light hair color, light eye color; however, having dark skin, hair and eyes doesn’t eliminate your risk

• Tanning bed use: use before the age of 30 increases melanoma risk by 75 percent

• Exposure to UV radiation, either natural or artificial

• History of melanoma in one or more immediate family members

• Sunburns at a young age: just one blistering sunburn can double the risk

• High number of moles: individuals with 50+ moles have an increased risk

• Previous diagnosis of skin cancer (melanoma, basal cell or squamous cell)

• Weakened immune system

• Age: Melanoma is most common in men over 50; it is the second most common cancer in teens and young adults

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following to reduce the risk of skin cancer:

• Stay out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• Do not burn: one blistering sunburn while young doubles the risk; five or more sunburns of any type at any age also doubles the risk

• Avoid tanning booths: just four visits per year increases melanoma risk by 11 percent, and risk for basal or squamous cell skin cancer by 15 percent

• Cover up with clothing: wear a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. Clothing is an effective defense; densely woven and bright or dark colors are best or use specialized sun-blocking fabrics

• Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day, and use SPF 30 sunscreen formulated for outdoor use when outside for long periods

• Use appropriate amounts of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply at least every two hours, or more often after swimming or excessive sweating

• Keep newborns out of the sun: children are very sensitive to UV radiation. Protect babies with age-appropriate sunscreen and appropriate shade and clothing

• Examine your skin monthly looking at moles and/or lesions using the ABCDE method; and notify your health care provider if you see one or more of the following:

A for asymmetrical shape

B for irregular borders

C for the presence of more than one color or uneven color

D for diameter; skin cancers are often more than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser)

E for evolution, such as recent changes in color and/or size

See your health care provider yearly for a professional skin exam.

Beth Bryant is the oncology service line director at the North Mississippi Medical Center Cancer Center.