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Protect yourself from the sun - and skin cancer - every day

Most of us donít think about sunscreen when shoveling snow in the winter, raking leaves in the fall or taking a walk on a cloudy day in the spring. But we are exposed to the sunís invisible, harmful ultraviolet rays 365 days of the year. More than 90 percent of all skin cancers occur on areas of the body such as the face, neck, ears, forearms and hands that are regularly exposed during these routine activities.

The sun produces two types of radiation in the form of visible and invisible rays. The invisible rays, known as ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), cause suntan, sunburn and sun damage to the skin that can result in skin cancer. Although harmful UV rays are more intense in the summer, at higher altitudes and closer to the equator their effects are also increased by wind and reflections from water, sand or snow. Even on the cloudiest days, UV radiation reaches the earth.

The damage done by UV exposure remains long after a suntan has faded. According to the American Cancer Society, one severe sunburn during childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Cancerous skin conditions can develop years or even decades after excessive exposure.

Hugh Gloster Jr., M.D., a surgical dermatologist with The University Hospital, reports "skin cancer is the most common type of malignancy in the world and its incidence is increasing exponentially. Left untreated, skin cancer may be locally destructive or even fatal. Thus, it is extremely important to take steps to prevent skin cancer and detect it in its early stages, when the potential for cure is greatest."

You can significantly reduce your chances of developing skin cancer by following these guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology.

* Minimize sun exposure, especially during the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
* Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 every day, even if it is cloudy or overcast. If you are working or playing outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours.
* Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves, pants and sunglasses if you will be in the sun for a long period of time or if you have fair skin, freckles, a personal or family history of skin cancer or skin spots called keratoses.
* Beware of reflective surfaces that can reflect up to 85 percent of the sunís rays.
* Avoid tanning salons and sunlamps that emit dangerous UV radiation.
* Minimize childrenís exposure to the sun as much as possible, and apply sunscreen beginning at six months of age.

In addition to these precautions, it is also important to receive regular skin examinations by a physician and to examine your own skin once a month to look for any changes in the size, shape, texture or color of any moles, sores, lumps, rough areas, scaly spots, skin discolorations or growths on the skin.

Using a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror in a well-lighted room, follow these simple steps to make sure you check all areas of your body.
1. Examine the front, back and sides of your body in the full-length mirror.
2. Bend your elbows your fingernails, palms, forearms and upper arms.
3. Examine the back, front and sides of your legs, as well as the buttocks and genital area.
4. Examine your feet, including the toenails, soles and spaces between the toes.
5. Examine your face, neck, ears and scalp. Ask someone to assist you if you have problems checking these areas.
6. If you notice any changes, contact your doctor immediately. Skin cancer is 100 percent curable if it is detected and treated early enough.

Source: American Academy of Dermatology

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