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Actress Marcia Cross Has a New Role: Cancer Advocate

The Desperate Housewives star is helping lead the fight against cancer in marches, through her advocacy, and with her own family.

Preventing Skin Cancer

With a grandfather and a cousin who both fought melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, Marcia Cross knows to avoid the sun during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and to safeguard herself and her family with sunscreen and floppy hats. Most of us know that, right? But here's what you may not know about melanoma:

Hide and seek. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 10% to 15% of all cases of melanoma diagnosed each year in this country are on areas of the body that were never or only rarely directly exposed to harmful UV rays. For instance, melanoma can appear on the scalp beneath the hair, between the toes, on the soles of feet, in the palms of hands, in the eyes -- even on the genitals. If not detected early enough, it can metastasize to other areas of the body.

Ban the burn. Even one bad sunburn in childhood more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later on. "Children should not be getting sunburned at any age, especially since there is a range of very effective sun protection methods that can used," says Perry Robins, MD, president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. "Parents need to be extra vigilant about sun protection all the time."

Spread it on. How you use sunscreen is also key, says John Huber, MD, a dermatologist at Memphis Dermatology Clinic. "Sunscreen provides a false sense of security, mainly because people put it on and then behave in ways they wouldn't without it. In other words, they stay out in the sun for hours, go swimming, dry themselves off, go swimming again. People forget to reapply. It takes a full two ounces to cover the body with every application. And yet I hear patients tell me a single bottle of sunscreen lasts them all summer."

Bare it. Leave your sense of modesty at the door. "My patients come in for skin screenings, and the vast majority leave on their underwear and bras. While I respect my patients' reservations, we shouldn't allow modesty to stand in the way of a full body examination. Skin is skin. And cancerous moles can appear anywhere." So next time you get your skin checked, tell your doctor you plan to go "the full monty." It could save your life.

Reviewed on September 30, 2009

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