Louisianians love to enjoy the great outdoors but exposure to the sun and even indoor tanning means the potential for overexposure to ultraviolet light, which poses the greatest risk for skin cancer.

Half of all new cancers are skin cancers and more than a million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Based on rates from 2001, one in 71 Americans has a lifetime risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

The most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Both arise within the top layer of the skin and usually appear on the sun-exposed areas of the body, including the face, forearms, and neck, as a scaly area or bump that persists and bleeds.

If detected and treated early, these cancers have a better than 95 percent cure rate. About 80 percent of all skin cancers are basal cell while 16 percent are squamous cell.

The other 4 percent are melanoma, which can appear suddenly without warning and also can develop from or near a mole.

Melanoma is found most frequently on the upper backs of men and women and on the legs of women, but can occur anywhere on the body and tends to spread. This makes prompt treatment essential.

Most recent statistics indicate 9,800 people will die every year of skin cancer, 7,800 from melanoma and 2,000 from other skin cancers. In 2001, there were 51,400 new cases of melanoma, 29,000 in men and 22,400 in women.

So what can you do to reduce your risk of skin cancer? You can begin by limiting your exposure to the sun and understanding your risk factors.

Tips on Preventing Skin Cancer and Premature Aging

Excessive sun exposure in the first 18 years of life increases your chances of developing melanoma. In addition, Caucasians with fair skin have four times the risk of developing melanoma as Caucasians with olive skin. People who already have had one melanoma are at greater risk for another.

People who have many moles, large moles or atypical (unusual) moles have a substantially increased risk of developing melanoma. Redheads and blondes with light colored eyes have a twofold to fourfold increased risk of developing melanoma. A family history of melanoma increases a person’s chances of developing the skin cancer.

Because overexposure to ultraviolet light is the primary cause of premature wrinkling, age spots and skin cancer, it is recommended that precautions such as avoiding peak sunlight hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), applying and re-applying sun screen of at least 15 SPF, protect lips, avoid reflective surfaces and, of course, protect children. Tanning beds should also be avoided due to harmful light rays that can be used in them.

There are so many types of sunscreen that selecting the right one can be quite confusing. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The academy also recommends re-applying every two hours, paying special attention to face, ears, hands and arms and not to be fooled by shade because 80 percent of the sun’s harmful rays are filtered through clouds.

The AAD has designated each May as Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. The first Monday in May is Melanoma Monday, designated as “National Skin Self-Examination Day” in order to raise awareness about melanoma and encourage individuals to begin a lifelong habit of regular skin self-examinations.

The bottom line is that when detected early, dermatological surgical removal of thin melanomas and the majority of basal and squamous cell carcinomas can cure the disease in most cases. Early detection is essential. There is a direct correlation between the thickness of the melanoma and survival rates.

In addition to surgical removal, other treatments include radiation therapy, electrodesiccation (tissue destruction by heat), cryosurgery (tissue destruction by freezing) and laser therapy for early skin cancer.

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