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Sun Safety and Skin Cancer Awareness

Sun Are You at Risk?

Even if you don't sunbathe anymore, you still need to worry about skin cancer. A lifetime of year-round sun exposure can add up. Skin cancers develop long after the sun damages your skin.

Indoor tanning beds are no safer than the sun when it comes to skin cancer risk. Although tanning beds allow you to carefully time your exposure to keep you from burning, they expose you to UV rays just as the sun does.

Most skin cancers occur in older people, but every age group is at risk. Children need to be well protected from the sun because of the possible link between childhood sunburns and increased risk of malignant melanoma later in life. Rates of malignant melanoma are also more than 10 times higher in whites than in African Americans. Therefore if you have a darker complexion, you have a lower risk of getting skin cancer but it can still happen to you.

You are at greater risk for skin cancer if you have...

  • Light skin color
  • A family or personal history of melanoma
  • Many moles and freckles
  • A History of severe childhood sunburn
  • Much sun exposure over many years

Check Your Skin

Individuals should perform monthly skin self-examinations, examining all skin surfaces, including palms of hands, soles of feet and scalp. See your doctor or dermatologist if you find any suspicious growths or changes in size or color of a mole.

Warning signs of skin cancer vary, but can include the following:

  • A new growth or a sore that doesn't heal in two weeks.
  • A smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump.
  • A firm red lump, sometimes with bleeding or a crusty surface.
  • A flat, red spot that is rough, dry, or scaly.
  • A mole that has one half shaped differently from the other half.
  • A growth with an irregular border and/or containing different colors that can include black, tan, blue, white or red.
  • A growth that is larger than six millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser).

Nearly all skin cancers are preventable and highly curable if found and treated early. Even malignant melanoma has nearly 100% cure rate if detected early, before the cancer has penetrated into the skin. Cancerous skin growths often go undetected because they are rarely painful.

Prevention

The best strategy for protecting yourself against skin cancer is to minimize your exposure to the sun. Limit your exposure to midday sun, use a sunscreen with a SFP of 15 or higher, and cover up. More tips for preventing skin cancer are available at the Skin Cancer Foundation Web site.

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