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Sun Savvy

July 25, 2008 7:36:30 AM PDT
By now, many of us are in full summer routine. And diligence with the sunscreen may be starting to wane. But don't think your skin is less vulnerable to harmful rays as the season wears on.

Last year, more than 8,000 Americans died of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. So who's really at risk and what can you do to stay safe? Being able to distinguish the myths versus the truth about skin cancer and sun may just save your life.

After months and months of a torturous Midwest winter, we really deserve all the sunshine we can get.

"Love to get tan, love to be here in the sun rather than the cold," said Armando Salines.

But when does it become too much of good thing? You might not think you're at risk, but everyone is, which brings us to our first myth: only fair-skinned people get skin cancer. Darker skin types can actually be under diagnosed for skin cancer.

"So, despite the fact that we see lower numbers, for example, melanoma in African American and Hispanics, they have a higher mortality rate from the disease because of the late time of diagnosis," said Dr. Vesna Petronic-Rosic, dermatologist , University of Chicago Medical Center.

In dark-skinned people, it often shows up where you might not think to look - under fingernails or on the soles of feet.

Rosic says there's a lot of misinformation when it comes to keeping your skin safe. It's not always easy to distinguish fact from fiction.

Another myth - only burns lead to skin cancer. Even sporadic time in the sun say walking your dog twice a day or gardening can cause damage.

"They tend to get basal cell carcinomas he most common kind of skin cancer," said Rosic.

Slapping on the sunscreen is a must, even if you're heading out for just 20 minutes.

"I'm very diligent - wintertime, summertime, 45 SPF every day," said Lisa Liettiere.

And don't forget, your head can be just as vulnerable as other parts of the body.

"I always wear a hat, and so I just try to be careful," said Chris Rice.

Are there ways to get a safe tan? Not unless it comes in a bottle or spray.

Another myth - tanning beds are safer. Many beds use UVA rays, which experts say, penetrate skin deeper and may cause more long term damage.

"There is actually a World Health Organization initiative to ban indoor tanning for teenagers," said Rosic.

Another myth doctors are trying to dispel - all clothing will provide protection.

"A t-shirt might have an SPF of six to eight, which is not really adequate," said Dr. Dennis L. Rousseau, oncologist, Florida Hospital Cancer Institute.

So apply sunscreen, wven under clothes. And use enough - about the amount that will fit in the palm of your hand. One more thing - just because you use sunscreen doesn't mean you're safe all day.

"The fact is, if you use sunscreen, you still need to limit your time outdoors," Rosic said.

And check yourself monthly for suspicious moles. The ones you don't have to worry about have a uniform color and shape.

One last myth -- it's not just in your genes. Research shows less than 10 percent of melanomas are genetic. The majority are caused by something you can avoid - the sun.

Keep in mind, most self-tanning products do not contain sunscreen and your eyes need protection, too. Look for sunglasses that guard against UVA and UVB rays.

And finally, sun exposure is not the only way people get skin cancer... Melanoma can show up on areas of the body that get little, if any, sun.

Dr. Vesna Petronic-Rosic
University Chicago Medical Center
773-702-1611
www.uchospitals.edu

American Cancer Society
www.cancer.org

Skin Cancer Foundation
http://www.skincancer.org

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/

Mayo Clinic
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cancer-causes/CA00085


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