Melanoma: A Largely Preventable Skin Cancer

Before you take the big camping trip or beach vacation this summer, there’s something you should know. Once thought to be healthy, the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause wrinkles, freckles, cataracts, skin texture changes, dilated blood vessels and most importantly – skin cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cite exposure to UV rays as the most important environmental factor in developing skin cancer. Skin cancer is a largely preventable disease when sun protective measures are consistently used. However, approximately 70 percent of American adults do not protect themselves from the sun’s dangerous rays.

The number of new cases of melanoma in the United States is on the rise. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that in 2005 there will be 59,580 new cases of melanoma in this country. About 7,770 people will die of this disease.

Anyone can get skin cancer and it’s important to protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. Practice sun-safety and lower your risk of melanoma. The ACS recommends these sun-safety tips:

  • Seek shade when outdoors to limit your exposure to the sun. This is particularly important in the middle of the day when ultraviolet light is most intense.
  • Protect your skin with clothing and wear sunglasses. You can protect most of your skin with clothing, including a shirt with long sleeves and a hat with a broad brim. Fabric with a tight weave generally provides the best sun protection. Wrap-around sunglasses with 99 to 100 percent UV absorption provide the best protection for the eyes and the skin area around the eyes.
  • Use sunscreen to reduce the amount of UV light exposure. Sunscreens with an SPF factor of 15 or more should be used on areas of the skin exposed to the sun, particularly when the sunlight is strong. Always follow directions when applying sunscreen and apply sunscreen before you go outside. Many sunscreens wear off with sweating and swimming and must be reapplied for maximum effectiveness. Use sunscreen even on hazy days or days with light or broken cloud cover because UV light still comes through.
  • Avoid other sources of UV light. The use of tanning beds and sun lamps is hazardous because the ultraviolet radiation they deliver can damage your skin. Therefore, you shouldn’t use them. There is growing evidence that they may increase your risk of developing melanoma. This is an area of active research.
  • Be especially careful about sun protection for children. Children require special attention. Parents should protect them from excess sun exposure by using the measures described above. Older children need to be cautioned about sun exposure as they become more independent. Check your skin at least once a month for any changes in color, shape or size or texture of moles, new moles, freckles, blemishes or other changes. If you notice a change, visit your doctor for a skin examination.