# Monday, March 17, 2008
                 

Skin Cancer Prevention

Many Canadians are escaping the cold winter months by traveling to countries that have a warmer climate. It's important when enjoying your time in the sunshine to make sure you are not exposing your skin to potentially harmful UV rays, which can increase your risk of skin cancer. As children and infants are especially at risk due to having sensitive skin, precautions need to be taken.

Skin cancer is the one form of cancer that can be prevented. There are 3 types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant carcinoma. The first two are the most prevalent forms of skin cancer found in Canadians. They tend to develop later in life on areas of the skin that have been repeatedly exposed to the sun such as the face, neck, and/or hands. They are rarely fatal as it is uncommon for this form of cancer to spread to other areas of the body. Minor surgery easily removes the affected areas of skin. Malignant melanomas on the other hand, are quite fatal as they progress very rapidly and can develop on virtually any part of the body. This form of skin cancer also occurs a lot earlier in life and accounts for 5% of people affected by skin cancer.

Everyone is at some risk of developing melanoma, but certain factors can determine if you are at an increased level of risk. These are:

• Exposure to the sun. UVA as well as UVB rays are dangerous to skin health and can induce skin cancer. Blistering sunburns in early childhood as well as cumulative exposure are factors that can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. This applies to both natural sun and tanning booths.
• Moles. Most people have small brown moles or "beauty marks" that appear in the first several decades of life. These are normal moles which are harmless. Atypical moles however, can be dangerous. Also known as dysplastic nevi, these are moles or patches of skin that are abnormally dark, or moles that are bleeding, crusting or changing in their color, size, and/or shape. These should be checked immediately by your physician. It's important to realize that regardless of type, the more moles you have, the greater your risk is for melanoma.
• Skin type. People with fairer skin are more at risk for all forms of skin cancer.
• Family history. It's estimated that one out of ten patients diagnosed with skin cancer has a family member who has also had it. Therefore, it's important to know if your parents, siblings or children have been diagnosed with melanoma, as you are in a melanoma-prone family. A person who has a first-degree relative with melanoma has a fifty percent greater chance of developing skin cancer than those with no family history of the disease. You also have a slight increase in risk if anyone such as aunts, unless, cousins, grandparents, etc. have had skin cancer.
• Your own personal medical history. Having any form of skin cancer automatically increases your risk of occurrence. People with a compromised immune system that is a result from chemotherapy, organ transplant or HIV/AIDS are also at a higher risk level for melanoma.

The main cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). These rays cause skin cancer by directly damaging skin cells, as well as weakening the immune mechanisms in the skin. Consequently, most cases of skin cancer can be prevented by limiting your exposure to UV rays. Things you can do to minimize your exposure are:

• Try and spend time in the shade when outdoors during the hottest parts of the day
• If you're spending long periods of time in the sun, wear a broad-rimmed hat, as well as clothing that has a tight weave, and covers your skin
• Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 and offers both UVA and UVB protection. You should apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going in the sun, as well as 15-30 minutes after exposure. Make sure to reapply often after swimming, vigorous activity, or toweling off.
• Certain medications can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays, so read the labels and inserts for all your medications. If you're still unsure, consult with your physician or pharmacist.

If you are taking infants and/or children outside follow the above recommendations as well as:

• Never letting infants or young children play or sleep in the sun in a playpen, stroller, or carriage.
• Even when wearing sunscreen, do not let your children stay in direct sun for long periods of time.
• Make sure your children are wearing plenty of sunscreen, and reapply often as they are more active then most adults which can make it wear off more quickly.

Make sure to regularly check for any changes in moles on your skin, if you think there has been any sort of change, consult with your physician.

RSS 2.0