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Skin Cancer: Keep Your Skin Safe

 By Jessica Deets | Jan 2006

There's more to prevention than you think

Statistics surrounding skin cancer are astounding. More than one million new cases are diagnosed each year, more than all other cancers combined. This means that one in five people will have skin cancer in their lifetime. Despite this high number, Americans understand very little about how to prevent skin cancer, and actually take preventative measures even less. Understanding the types, cause, risks, and prevention of skin cancer is the best way to combat this potentially deadly disease.

The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma which are usually curable. The third type, melanoma, is much more dangerous and one of the most common cancers in young adults.

Ninety percent of skin cancer is caused by the sun's rays, with UVA rays affecting the genetics of the skin and UVB rays altering the outside layers. Sun exposure in childhood can dramatically increase a person's chance of getting skin cancer. One blistering sunburn in childhood can as much as double the risk of melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, later in life. Childhood is also the part of life which holds the greatest sun exposure for most people. Most parents protect their children from the sun during the summer, or on a trip to the beach, but for children especially, every day is an opportunity to experience the damaging rays of the sun. It is important to protect against the sun's UVA and UVB rays year round.

Risks of skin cancer increase in certain ethnic and age groups. Those with fair skin, blue or green eyes, light colored hair are more susceptible to skin cancer. As are those who burn or freckle easily. However, even those with dark skin can get melanoma and in those rarer cases, it proves to be more deadly. Age also affects a person's risk of skin cancer. In white men over 50, melanoma is the most common kind of cancer, even more common than cancer of the prostate, colon, or lung.

Prevention of skin cancer seems pretty straightforward to most people. Stay out of the sun, and when you can't, wear protective clothing and sunblock. It's not quite that easy. To be effective, sunblock should be above SPF (sun protection factor) 15 and should be reapplied liberally at least every 2 hours. All sunblocks are not created equal. Look for sunblock that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and apply it 15 minutes before heading outside. Even with good sunblock applied well, UV rays can still reach the skin. This is why experts recommend staying out of the sun during the most dangerous, midday rays. Also, cover up with a wide brimmed hat, tightly woven clothing, and sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes. Try to avoid UV rays outside and inside, including tanning beds.

Although skin cancer is incredibly common, understanding the types, causes, risks, and especially prevention can help you and your family avoid this dangerous disease that affects one in five people. Be Sun Smart!


Jessica Deets researches medical information and writes to help people. For more information about melanoma, see the website at http://www.melanomainfo.com.

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