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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Sunburn Not Necessary for Skin Cancer

Even Moderate Amount of Sun Increases Melanoma Risk


"That makes sense, based on recent research," says Toombs. "What happens with sun exposure is a process called hardening -- basically, with repeated sun exposure, so much damage has been done that there is no more that can be done. And with melanoma, we think that new exposed skin, like that on the back while at the beach, is subject to greater trauma from massive amount of sun in short bursts than skin that has been chronically exposed."

Before you start tallying up your moles, some advice from Toombs, who was not involved in the study: Reach for a pencil and see if your moles -- or your child's moles -- measure up.

"When we talk about moles, we're really concerned about those that are so large that a parent can easily eyeball them," she tells WebMD. "The size of a mole is a more disconcerting factor than just the number. If it's smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser, they are less significant than those larger than an eraser."

Spotting early changes in a mole can help diagnose melanoma early and save your life. Knowing what to look for is the first step.

The bottom line: "Since we don't know for sure the effects that sun has on the possible later development of melanoma, you should practice the same protective measures as you would in preventing other forms of skin cancer. And that means wearing, and having your children wear, sunscreen every time they are outdoors when there is daylight, and reapply it every two hours."

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