May is 'Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month'

The temperature outside is slowly rising as summer approaches and the sun sneaks out from behind the clouds.

As the days get even nicer, people wearing shorts and tank-tops will be sighted regularly as they make their way to work, play with their children or head outdoors for a day of recreation.

They shouldn't forget to use precaution and common sense before venturing under the sun for some innocent fun. It can save their lives.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Each year, doctors diagnose more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidences of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.

Since its inception in 1979, The Skin Cancer Foundation has recommended using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen.

Sunscreen alone, however, is not enough. The foundation also recommends:

_ Seeking the shade, especially between 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

_ Preventing sunburn.

_ Avoiding tanning booths.

_ Applying 1 ounce (or about 2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside every day and reapplying every two hours.

_ Covering up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

_ Keeping newborns out of the sun and using sunscreen on babies over the age of 6 months.

_ Examining your skin head-to-toe every month.

_ Seeing your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

In support of Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, Dr. Agnieszka Niemeyer of Paragon Dermatology is offering free skin cancer screenings and teaching people how to perform self-examinations. The programs will continue through May.

"More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year," Niemeyer said.

The most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma, is expected to kill more than 8,000 people this year - meaning that one American will die from melanoma every 62 minutes.

"Fortunately," Niemeyer said, "most skin cancers, including melanoma, can be cured if detected early."

According to a survey by the American Academy of Dermatology, most Americans don't know the warning signs of melanoma and only about one-third perform routine self-examinations of their skin.

Those are statistics that can be easily changed, Niemeyer said.

Three main types of skin cancer exist: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

When conducting a self-exam, look for any sign of change and don't ignore a suspicious-looking spot just because it doesn't hurt. Skin cancers can be painless but dangerous nonetheless.

Inspect obvious places such as the face, nose, lips, mouth, ears, arms, legs and back but don't forget to check your scalp, between your toes, the soles of your feet and other hard-to-see and hard-to-reach places.

Warning signs include:

_ A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored.

_ A mole, birthmark, beauty mark or any brown spot that changes color, increases in size or thickness, changes in texture, is irregular in outline, is bigger than 6 mm or 1/4 inch (about the size of a pencil eraser) or appears after age 21.

_ A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode or bleed.

_ An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.

If you notice one or more warning signs, schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible.

Reach Ashley Miller at

SPF explained

The sun protection factor, or SPF, measures the effectiveness of a sunscreen.

Despite popular belief, SPF is not an amount of protection per se. Rather, it indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden skin when using a sunscreen, compared to how long skin would take to redden without the product.

For instance, someone using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will take 15 times longer to redden than without the sunscreen. An SPF 15 sunscreen screens 93 percent of the sun's UVB rays; SPF 30 protects against 97 percent; and SPF 50, 98 percent.

The Skin Cancer Foundation maintains that an SPF of 15 or higher is critical for sufficient protection.

Skin cancer facts

_ One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime says the Skin Cancer Foundation.

_ More than 20 Americans die each day from skin cancer, primarily melanoma.

_ Approximately 62,480 melanoma cancer cases will be diagnosed this year, with nearly 8,420 resulting in death.

_ The survival rate for patients with melanoma that's detected early, before the tumor has penetrated the epidermis, is about 99 percent. The survival rate falls to 15 percent for those with advanced disease.

_ Melanoma is the sixth most common cancer for males, seventh most common for females.

_ Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for persons 15-29 years old.

_ About 65 percent of melanoma cases can be attributed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

_ One in 55 people will be diagnosed with melanoma during his or her lifetime.

_ One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life.

_ A person's risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age.

_ The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over age 50.

_ People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, yet on an average day, more than 1 million Americans use tanning salons.

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