|The Skin Cancer rate is reaching
epidemic proportions, due to changes in lifestyle and a desire for a
"rich-and-famous" looking tan. Know the risks of exposure to the sun and
tanning beds before you start tanning — it could save your life.
- Have you had three or more blistering
sunburns before age 20?
- Do you have red or blond hair, and fair
skin that burns easily?
- Do you have lots of freckles on your
- Has anyone in your family had melanoma?
- Do you have rough red spots on parts of
your body that are seldom--or never--exposed to the sun's rays?
- As a teenager, did you work at least
three summers outdoors?
If you answered "yes" even to only three of
the questions above, your risk of developing a melanoma is 20 to 25 times
higher than that of the general population.
How to Save Your Skin
We used to believe that the sun's rays
funneled health into our bodies. After all, we look healthy with a tan: The
darker the tan, the more robust we appear — right? Besides, the sun puts
vitamin D into our skin — right? Wrong.
Except for the part about vitamin D, we've learned that these ideas are very
dangerous to our health. The "healthy look" is an illusion.
The relatively modern craving for a
suntanned skin has in recent years ignited a worldwide epidemic of deadly
melanoma, a skin cancer that experts recently have projected to kill 6500
Americans annually — with one in every 105 contracting melanoma in a
lifetime and facing a 1-in-5 chance of dying of it.
increasing faster than any other cancer in the United States. Ten
years ago it was unusual to see someone under 40 with melanoma. Now it is
common in people in their 20's and 30's.
The earth's protective ozone layer is
dwindling twice as rapidly as had been expected. Worldwide data gathered by
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's satellites moved the EPA
to predict that the thinning of the atmosphere's ozone shield will admit
even more of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays and lead to as many as 12
million skin cancer deaths in the United States in the course of the next 50
The depletion of ozone worsens approaching
the North and South poles. In the US, it is worst in areas north of a line
reaching from Reno, Nev., to Denver to Philadelphia. Large parts of Europe
and regions around the equator also are affected. Worst in the world,
however, is the "ozone hole" detected over Antarctica during the winter
months. The depletion of ozone previously was thought to cease in warmer
months, but it now has been found to continue into April and May, when
people start spending more time outdoors.
Australia, south of the equator, with
plenty of sunshine and many fair-haired, fair-skinned citizens of
Anglo-Saxon and Celtic origin who like the great outdoors, has the highest
cancer rate in the world.
Australia holds a yearly National Skin
Cancer Awareness Week, during which literature and posters are distributed
and dermatologists hold free skin-cancer screenings.
Early Detection is The Key
A cancer quite new and thin — only 1/32 of
an inch, as slim as a postcard — can promise you almost a 100 percent cure
rate. At this stage, doctors can excise the melanoma. Up to 4/32 of an inch,
your survival rate drops 50 percent. If a growth exceeds that thickness,
your life expectancy plummets. Clearly, getting a doctor's care promptly is
a matter of life or death.
Once a cancer penetrates a couple layers of
skin, its wild cells break loose and travel the tiny canals of the body to
lodge in the liver, brain, kidneys and other sites on the skin. There they
settle and form ever larger clumps, choking the organs they have invaded.
The 'ABCD' System
For early detection, the "ABCD"
system can help you identify a cancer or a potential cancer on your body.
stands for Asymmetry, or irregularity of shape — meaning that you
cannot draw a line through it to create matching halves. Non-cancerous
pigmented lesions usually are round and symmetrical (when cut down the
middle, their halves have matching shapes), but early malignant
melanomas usually are asymmetrical.
is for irregular Border — common to cancerous growths. Benign growths
usually have regular margins.
is for Color. A harmless growth generally is one color overall and
flat. Cancerous growths, however, harbor various shades-from tan and
brown to black, sometimes mixed in with pink or red or white.
is for Diameter. If the growth measures more than 6 millimeters across
(about 1/4"), it is dangerous.
All of us, black-skinned to fair, need sun
protection. The sun's ultraviolet light harms our skin, including the soles
of our feet and our palms. There is evidence that damage done during
childhood and the teen years creates the greatest risk, so we must teach
small children caution.
To avoid trouble, heed these pointers from
The Skin Cancer
|1) Avoid the sun, especially between
10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
2) Wear a broad-brimmed hat to shade the face; wear long pants
and long sleeves.
3) If you must expose your skin to the ultraviolet light, use
sunscreens rated 30, or higher — it will take you 30 times longer to
get sunburned. Sunscreens do not filter out all the ultraviolet
rays, so proceed with caution.
The future is bright for those who get
immediate care for melanoma; dim for patients with advanced melanomas, but
anticancer work being done worldwide inspires hope.
While some sun exposure is beneficial for vitamin D production, about
10 to 15 minutes a day, three times per week is sufficient to provide the
body's vitamin D requirements. Otherwise, it's best to wear sunscreen.
Better yet, stay out of the sun, altogether, and examine yourself
regularly for the deadly growths.
Also, remember that self-tanning products
are a safe alternative to UV exposure. Artificial tan technology is so
advanced today that it's comparable to a natural tan. Tanning beds are NOT a