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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Hey Guys, Don't Forget the Sunscreen

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"Melanoma is not a death sentence. It can be prevented, and if it's detected early, it's 95% curable," says Roger I. Ceilly, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Iowa in Des Moines, and the chief of the dermatology section at Iowa Methodist Medical Center.

The AAD has designated Monday, May 7 as "Melanoma Monday" and May as National Skin Cancer Detection month. During May, dermatologists will participate in special screening programs.

"Every year, more and more people develop skin cancer," he says.

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.

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