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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Want Melanoma? Get a Tan

Researchers Predict Melanoma Will Top Common Cancer List
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Prevention Is Key

Faced with damning evidence about increased melanoma risk, tanning-bed advocates have switched to a new marketing ploy, touting the theoretical health benefits of increased vitamin D exposure for preventing osteoporosis and some forms of cancer. "That's now the excuse of choice for going to tanning parlors," Naylor comments. Typical is a fitness center in British Columbia, Canada that offers "unlimited tanning" for a fixed monthly fee: "Our natural tanning process provides protection against burning," the center's web site copy promises.

"All I can say about that is that if vitamin D really does that, then the logical thing is to supplement it in the diet," Naylor explains.

Here's some information that can help you avoid the risk:

  • Avoid excessive exposure such as sunbathing.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat when you are out in the sun.
  • Wear UV-blocking sunglasses and protective clothing.
  • Use a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher.

Apply sunscreen then re-apply every two hours, in order to maintain adequate protection.

Apart from prevention, the best chance for curing melanoma is spotting it early and having it surgically removed. Until recently, that meant regular top-to-toe skin examinations by a dermatologist or other health professionals trained to recognize melanoma's warning signs -- including suspicious moles with irregular borders or coloration. While this method is generally effective, it's not foolproof, and may lead to unnecessary surgery to remove noncancerous growths.

"The current numbers in terms of how accurate we are as dermatologists are relatively poor; at most we can get about 70% in [accuracy] of diagnosis of known melanomas," says John H. Tu, MD, a skin imaging specialist in the department of dermatology at the University of Rochester and Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y.

"There's an old saying among dermatologists: 'When in doubt, take it out,'" William Abramovits, MD, from the Texas Dermatology Research Institute in Dallas, tells WebMD. But now Abramovits and colleagues have a new tool called a mulitspectral dermoscope at their disposal. These handheld devices, about the size of a compact digital camera, use light and digital imaging technology to help highlight areas of concern, and help doctors to distinguish minor skin problems from potentially serious lesions. The digital images can also be transferred to a computer for enhancement.

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