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For Release: May 1, 2008
Warmer weather means more outside activity for many people. Oklahomans are encouraged to take precautions to protect their skin while out in the sun participating in their favorite activities such as swimming, sports, yard work, gardening or picnics and barbecues.
This year approximately 62,480 people in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, with approximately 8,420 deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that Oklahoma will see 700 new cases of melanoma in 2008.
Warning signs of melanoma include changes in size, shape or color of an existing mole or skin growth, or the appearance of a new growth on the skin. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) suggests using the simple ABCD rule to evaluate skin growths:
• A is asymmetry (both halves of the growth are not the same)
• B is border irregularity (the edges are blurry and jagged)
• C is color (color is not the same throughout the growth and may vary from tan to black)
• D is diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser, or greater than 6 mm)
“As adults, we should receive regular skin exams by our medical provider, perform monthly self-skin exams and watch skin growths on our children,” states Cabinet Secretary of Health and State Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Crutcher.
The OSDH and Dr. Crutcher also suggest taking the following precautions to reduce exposure to UV rays:
• Limit Direct Sun Exposure during the Midday. Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. the sun’s rays are most intense. Clouds do not block most UV rays. The UV index can be found for your area at the EPA UV Index Web page at http://epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html.
• Cover up with protective clothing. Cover up as much of your skin as possible. If you can see light through your clothing, the UV rays from the sun can get through. Dry clothing is more protective than wet.
• Apply Sunscreen. Look for sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, containing the ingredients zinc oxide, titanium oxide and avobenzone (or parsol 1789). The American Cancer Society recommends an SPF of 15 or higher. The higher the SPF number is, the greater the protection. There is no true “waterproof” sunscreen. Apply (a palmful of) sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun, remembering your face, neck, ears, lower legs, feet and hands. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or more often if you are swimming or sweating.
• Wear a hat. A baseball cap does not protect the ears or back of the neck. A hat with a 2- to 3-inch brim all around is best.
• Wear sunglasses. Long hours in the sun without eye protection increase the chances of developing eye disease. Sunglasses that block UV rays do not have to be expensive, however, they should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
• Avoid Tanning Beds. Tanning beds are not harmless. They emit UVA and UVB rays that can cause serious long-term damage. Research shows that only one use of tanning beds increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 15 percent.
Finally, OSDH health officials say to remember that sun exposure and skin cancer can affect everyone. It does not matter how fair or how dark your skin may be, you are still at risk for a sunburn and skin cancer if you do not take precautions.
For more information, call the OSDH Chronic Disease Service at (405) 271-4072.
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