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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Hey Guys, Don't Forget the Sunscreen

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By 2010, one in 50 Americans will get melanoma. "It's increasing faster than any other cancer in the U.S.," Rigel says.

More than one million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in 2001, and 51,400 of them will be melanoma, Ceilly adds. "That's a 9% increase over 2000," he says. Middle-aged men are the main reason for this increase.

Part of the increase may be due to the ease in which people can travel from less sunny environments like New York City to high sun areas like Puerto Rico.

So what's a person to do? Start by following the lead of a group of skiers from Colorado and apply sunscreen frequently while outside, Rigel says.

In a study of 105 skiers in Vail, Colo., Rigel and colleagues found that SPF 15 and SPF 30 sunscreens offered the same protection against sunburn.

What made a difference, however, was how frequently the sunscreen was applied. Just 2% of skiers who applied their sunscreen every two hours or more frequently got a sunburn. By comparison, 10% of skiers who applied their sunscreen every 2.5 hours or less frequently got burned.

"The risk of sunburn is most influenced by lack of regular re-application," Rigel says.

His advice is to apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes prior to sun exposure to give it a chance to kick in, and then re-apply it every two hours, or even more frequently.

Remember, Rigel says, it takes 1 oz of sunscreen (a shot glass) to cover the entire body.

Other tips to prevent melanoma and other skin cancers include avoiding sun exposure during the peak sunlight hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and wearing protective clothing -- a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeves, and pants.

When doing self-skin exams, the experts recommend the "ABCD" rule for moles.

  • A is for asymmetry. In healthy moles, one half of the mole will match the other half.
  • B is for border. The border of moles should not be irregular.
  • C is for color. Suspicious moles may have more than one color, such as black, tan, or brown and sometimes red, white, or blue.
  • D is for diameter. A mole should be no larger than six millimeters, which is roughly the size of a pencil eraser.

If any moles demonstrate "ABCD," you should see your doctor immediately.

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