Know the risks of sun exposure before you work on that “healthy”-looking tan. It could save your life!
As a teenager, did you work at least three summers outdoors? Have you had three or more blistering sunburns before age 20? Do you have red or blond hair, and fair skin that burns easily? Do you have lots of freckles on your upper back? Has anyone in your family had melanoma? Do you have rough, red spots on parts of your body that are seldom – or never – exposed to the sun?
If you answered “yes” to only three of these questions, your risk of developing a melanoma is 20-25 times higher than that of the general population.
How To Save Your Skin
We used to believe that the sun’s rays funneled health into our bodies. After all, we look healthy with a tan, and the darker the tan, the more attractive we appear – right? Besides, the sun puts Vitamin D into our skin – right? Wrong! Except for the part about Vitamin D, we’ve learned that these ideas are very dangerous. The “healthy look” actually is an illusion, a mask for illness and worse. The relatively modern craving for a suntanned skin has in recent years ignited a worldwide epidemic of deadly melanoma, a skin cancer that experts have projected will kill 6,500 Americans annually – with one person in every 105 contracting melanoma in a lifetime and facing a 1-in-5 chance of dying of it.
Melanoma is increasing faster than any other cancer in the United States. Ten years ago, it was unusual to see someone under 40 with melanoma. Now it is common in people in their 20s and 30s. Reports indicate that there are more deaths from skin cancer than from any other form of cancer.
The earth’s protective ozone layer is disappearing twice as rapidly as had been expected. Worldwide data predict that the thinning of the atmosphere’s ozone shield will admit even more of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, and lead to as many as 12 million skin cancer deaths in the United States over the course of the next 50 years. The depletion of ozone worsens as one approaches the North and South poles. In the US, it is worst in areas north of a line reaching from Reno to Denver to Philadelphia. Worst in the world, however, is the “ozone hole” detected over Antarctica during the winter months. Australia, south of the equator, has the highest cancer rate in the world.
Early Detection Is The Key
A cancer detected when it is quite new and thin – only 1/32 of an inch, as slim as a postcard – can promise you almost a 100% cure rate; at this stage, doctors can excise the melanoma. Up to 4/32 of an inch, your survival rate drops 50%. If a growth exceeds that thickness, your life expectancy plummets. Clearly, getting a doctor’s care promptly is a matter of life or death. Once cancers penetrates a couple of layers of skin, its wild cells break loose and travel the tiny canals of the body to lodge in the liver, brain, kidneys, and other sites on the skin. There the cancer cells settle and form ever larger clumps, choking the organs they have invaded. An annual check-up by a dermatologist is crucial.
The “ABCD” System
For early detection, the “ABCD” system can help you identify a cancer or a potential cancer on your body.
A is for Asymmetry, or irregularity of shape – meaning that you cannot draw a line through it to create matching halves. Non-cancerous pigmented lesions usually are round and symmetrical (when divided down the middle, their halves have matching shapes), but early malignant melanomas usually are asymmetrical.
B is for irregular Border – common to cancerous growths. Benign growths usually have regular margins.
C is for Color. A harmless growth generally is one color overall and flat. Cancerous growths, however, harbor various shades – from tan to brown to black, sometimes mixed in with pink, red, or white.
D is for Diameter. If the growth measures more than 6 millimeters across (about ¼”), it is dangerous.
All of us – black-skinned to fair – need sun protection. The sun’s ultraviolet light harms our skin, including the soles of our feet and our palms. There is evidence that damage done during childhood and the teen years creates the greatest risk, so we must educate our children.
To avoid trouble, heed these pointers from The Skin Cancer Foundation. Avoid the sun, especially between 10 AM and 3 PM. Wear a broad-brimmed hat to shade the face; wear long pants and long sleeves. If you must expose your skin to ultraviolet light, use sunscreens rated SPF #30 or higher – it will take you 30 times longer to get sunburned. Sunscreens do not filter out all of the ultraviolet rays, so proceed with caution.
The future is bright for those who get immediate care for melanoma, but dim for patients with advanced melanomas, although anti-cancer research being conducted worldwide inspires hope. Meanwhile, it’s best to avoid the sun when possible, and to use our Daily Protection SPF 30 to significantly decrease UVA and UVB sun exposure. Also, yearly skin check-ups by a dermatologist are a must.
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