Protection best skin cancer prevention

By: Natalie Otis, Journal correspondent
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Are you ready to enjoy the sunshine after the long winter? You should think again. More than half of the estimated 60,000 new cases of melanoma projected this year will occur in just 10 states — and California is No. 1 the list, according to the American Cancer Society. Because the climate is hot and sunny throughout the year, the American Cancer Society has reported that Californians are more at risk for developing melanoma than any other state. Skin cancer is classified in three basic types: basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. In California, it is estimated that 6,680 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2008. One in five Americans, including one in three Caucasians, will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime. Children are especially vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays and one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. And it is not just the usual parts that are at risk. A study called “Solar Radiation, Lip Protection, and Lip Cancer Risk” researched lip protection and lip cancer risk in Los Angeles County women and the results suggested shiny lip balms and glosses may attract ultraviolet rays and increase the risk of skin cancer. The bottom line is to use sun block everywhere, says Auburn dermatologist Dr. Allison McCormick. No matter where you live, it’s important to be aware of risk factors and take the necessary measures to prevent skin cancer, McCormick said. Risk factors include light skin color, family history of skin cancer, presence of atypical moles and freckles and history of severe sunburn occurring early in life. “The areas most at risk are the typical sun exposed parts like the head, arms and the neck,” she said. “The number of people with cancer is definitely up.” McCormick also spends time volunteering in the school system to educate children about the importance of being sun smart. “Kids think that this golden brown skin is ‘in’ and what I see is really damaged skin,” she said. As a dermatologist McCormick was happy when a law was passed prohibiting children under 14 from using tanning beds and requiring children under the age of 18 to have a parent’s consent. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that people under age 25 have tripled their use of tanning salons since 1996. Of the 28 million tanners, an estimated 2.3 million are teenagers. A 2003 study by researchers at Case Western Reserve University found 11 percent of 13- and 14-year-old girls surveyed reported going tanning three or more times, but that number grew to 47 percent among 18- to 19-year-olds. “It is shocking that with all of the evidence that these beds are still dangerous that people still go,” she said. McCormick wants to make sure people don’t take her advice to head for shade as being anti-sun. “I try to teach the children when I do my talks that sun is good for growing plants and giving us vitamin D,” she said. “But there are ways to get what you need from the sun and still be safe.” As an Auburn parent of two children who heeds McCormick’s sun advice, Kelly Woytus says she is stocked with sunscreen in all of the important places — her purse, her car and her kids’ medicine cabinets. “We have a boat and are out a lot in the summer and I tend to be good about those kinds of days,” she said. “It is the day-to-day stuff that can be hard.” Woytus’ way to combat sun is to encourage her children to wear hats and to find products that her daughter doesn’t mind using, like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sun block SPF 45. “It is definitely on my mind,” she said. “I learned before I had kids that most sun damage is done early in life and that has stuck.” Auburn Union School District nurse Bonnie Magnetti said that because school children are playing in the yard during peak sun-exposure hours, she encourages parents to send their kids to school with sunscreen on and to have talks with their children about finding shade. Magnetti says the reality is that only one out of every three children is practicing some sort of sun safety. “Basically, skin cancer is something that is preventable in our early years. I know the teachers are now educating students,” she said. “It is scary, because I can remember the days of baby oil.” McCormick did stress that some sun damage is reversible and that it is never too late to practice good habits of wearing protective clothing, hats and sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 or more. “It is never too late to start,” she said. Natalie Otis can be reached at