Take precautions against melanoma

June 15, 2011

 

Dr. P.K. Reddy

With summer heat already scorching Arkansas, there are precautions you can take to help prevent a melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer and the leading cause of death from skin disease.

“Early detection is the key. That’s why people with a high risk need to see a dermatologist from time to time. If you detect it early, you can prevent the spreading of it,” said Dr. P.K. Reddy, medical oncologist at the Mercy Cancer Center in Hot Springs, Ark.

When people spend time in sunlight, cells called melanocytes make more of a skin pigment called melanin. This causes the skin to tan. But if the skin receives too much ultraviolet light, the melanocytes may begin to grow abnormally and become cancerous, a condition referred to as a melanoma. An advanced melanoma spreads to internal organs and could result in death.

In southern regions (including Arkansas) where sunlight is more intense, people are at higher risk to develop a melanoma. Those with light-colored skin or hair and with a family history of melanoma are at the highest risk. But it is also linked to excessive sun exposure in children.

Dr. Reddy said there are steps you can take to help prevent skin cancer:

  • Wear protective clothing. This includes a hat with a brim to shade the ears and neck, a shirt with sleeves to cover shoulders and pants. A fabric with a tight weave (100 percent cotton) is best to keep sunlight out.
  • Stay out of the sun during midday hours. The sun is its most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Avoid sunbathing and tanning salons. Studies suggest that the risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent if artificial tanning is used before 30-years-old.

“Sunscreen helps to protect,” Reddy said. “Expose less parts of the body to the sun – clothes and hats.”

The American Melanoma Foundation reports more than 73 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma. More than 1 million new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States each year, making it the fifth most common cancer in men and sixth most common in women.

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