May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May 21, 2010

CONTRIBUTED BY: DR. NANCY ALEXANDER

Summer is almost here. But if the temperature is used as the true indicator, rather than the calendar, this season has already arrived in Louisiana. Families have begun flocking to the coast, parks and even our own backyards to enjoy the sunshine. Living in this wonderful state, we are blessed to have an abundance of rivers, lakes and bayous, and fortunate to have a beautiful backdrop in which to be active. However, it is important to remember to protect yourself from unsafe sun exposure – a serious skin cancer risk – while spending time outdoors.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, affecting over 1 million Americans a year. Even with improved awareness about prevention and early detection, cases of the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, are on the rise. In 2009, approximately 630 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in Louisiana. A recent study by the American Academy of Dermatology found that 76 percent of people do not worry about skin cancer because they think it can be treated easily. However, when it is not detected early, melanoma can be fatal.

Skin cancer affects those with all hair, skin and eye colors. Even people who never sunburn are at risk. Though most cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in individuals over 50, damage to a child’s skin may have lifetime implications. It is crucial to instill sun-safe habits at a young age and never stop practicing them.

Skin cancer prevention is easy. The Prevent Cancer Foundation recommends the following tips for you and your family:

• Avoid or limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
• Always wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days, with UVB and UVA exposure protective formula and with SPF 15 or higher.
• Apply at least one ounce of sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply frequently – at least every two hours if in continuous sunlight.
• Wear sunglasses treated to absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation, use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15, and wear clothing with long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat.

In addition, remember to get your skin checked regularly by a dermatologist. It is also important for you to check your skin for any changes that may occur. Remember the ABCDE rule: Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color that is not uniform, Diameter greater than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil), and Elevation differences.

This summer, I hope you and your family take full advantage of all the fun places and activities that Louisiana has to offer. But, please make sure to protect yourself and your family while outdoors, at work or at play.

For more information about skin cancer prevention and early detection, visit the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Web site at www.preventcancer.org.

Dr. Nancy Alexander is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation and the spouse of U.S. Representative Rodney Alexander.

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