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Memorial Day- a Good Time for Sun Safety

Tom Joseph
HARRISBURG - The upcoming Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer.That means long, hot days in the sun, and Pennsylvanians are on notice that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime.

A dermatology expert says early detection and prevention are critical to reducing a person's risk.

Dr. Lawrence Mark, who works at Indiana University's Simon Cancer Center, says people with fair skin and lighter-colored hair and eyes are typically more prone to skin cancer, but that doesn't preclude it in those with darker complexions.

He says there are several factors to consider when sizing up your overall risk.

"'I used a tanning bed multiple times, I got multiple blistering, peeling sunburns, I have a family history of first-degree relatives with melanoma,'" he relates. "You compound those all together, and you get higher and higher levels of risk."

Mark says you can reduce skin cancer risk by limiting direct sun exposure with simple, commonsense measures, such as wearing a hat and long sleeves, and using a sunscreen that protects against UV rays.

And since the sun is at its strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., he says that's when people should avoid being outdoors.

Mark adds that the sun should not be considered an enemy, as it helps the human body produce vitamin D. But it doesn't take much time outdoors to get enough.

"Even if you are wearing sunscreen, you're actually not blocking 100 percent of the sun's rays when you do that," he advises. "And so, if someone is out with sunscreen on, they're still producing vitamin D nonetheless."

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Mark says while it accounts for less than five percent of all skin cancer cases, it also results in the most deaths. His advice is to check carefully for changes in your skin.

"Look out for an ugly duckling," he stresses. "You may have some brown freckles, some rough spots here and there, but if you've got this thing that is out of the ordinary - it's not like any of the others, I mean, there's something odd - that should be a sign to say, 'I should have somebody evaluate that.'"

He says one way to know what to look for is to remember the ABCDEs when noticing changes in skin color or texture:

A for asymmetry, B for a ragged border, C for color variability, D for diameter and E if the spot is evolving or changing over time.
Photo credit: Carl Washington, CDC via the Keystone State News Connection.
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