Op-ed: Protect yourself from skin cancer all year long


May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Protection Month. It makes sense to focus on skin protection when spring gives way to summer and we spend more time outdoors. While we should be especially vigilant in the strong summer sun, it is also important to remember to protect our skin throughout the year.

Damage can be done in the fall and winter and on cloudy days. Many facial moisturizers are now made with SPF 30 or higher and should be used year-round, along with hats and sunglasses.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, with more than 2 million people diagnosed each year. In 2014, it is expected that 76,100 of new cases will be melanoma skin cancer, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, leading to 9,710 deaths. One person dies from melanoma skin cancer every hour. In New York alone, it is expected that there will be 4,240 new cases of melanoma skin cancer in 2014. People too often don’t realize that melanoma can be deadly or understand that everyone, regardless of age, hair color, race or gender is at risk.

The primary cause of skin cancer is damage from the sun’s UV rays (ultraviolet radiation). Spending time in the sun, tanning or getting sunburned ages your skin rapidly and leads to a higher risk of skin cancer.

Tanning booths, popular among teenagers, produce dangerous UV rays and are especially harmful to those who are younger than 35, increasing their risk of melanoma by 75 percent. One indoor tanning session can increase your risk of melanoma by 20 percent. There is also a higher risk for people who smoke, have fair skin, freckles or light-colored eyes, have a family history of skin cancer or have numerous moles.

Children are especially vulnerable and spend more time outdoors than they do at any other time in their lives. Skin damage at an early age significantly raises the risk of skin cancer later on in life, so it is crucial to be attentive with young people. By practicing sun safety consistently, they will learn habits to use during teenage years and adulthood.

Here are some things everyone — regardless of age — should know:

  • Seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest. Even when it is cloudy out, UV rays can still reach the earth’s surface.
  •  Don’t get burned. Always use sunscreen when you are outside. Use at least SPF 30 sunscreen that is UVA and UVB blocking. Apply a palmful to your entire body 20 minutes before exposure, repeating every 2 hours. Do not forget to use SPF lip balm, too — even your lips are sensitive to sun rays.
  • •When you are in the sun, protect your eyes with UV-absorbent sunglasses, and wear a wide-brimmed hat and tightly woven clothing for maximum protection.
  •  Enjoy brief sun exposure of 15 minutes up to 3 days a week to your arms, face and hands. This produces much-needed Vitamin D.

It is also important that your health professional give your skin an annual examination — and that you check yourself monthly. Look for new moles or moles that have changed in size, color or shape. If you find a change in your skin, red spots, have sores that do not heal, or new moles, see your health professional right away.

The power of the sun should not be feared, but it must be respected. Always be cautious when going out in the sun. The preventive steps outlined above are easy and effective. Follow them. Encourage your loved ones to do the same. For more information on skin cancer and cancer prevention, visit preventcancer.org.

Dr. Wayne Kye is the spouse of Representative Grace Meng (NY-6) and a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation.



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