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Here comes the sun (and the warnings)

With summer fun in full swing, it is time to remember to take important skin care precautions

Posted: July 2, 2009 9:55 p.m.
Updated: July 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Berta Tellock applies sunscreen to her son, Gregory Tellock, 6

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With temperatures reaching the 100s, it’s obvious summer has arrived. Whether summer fun means having a picnic at one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s parks, a bike ride through the many available trails,  hitting up the rides at Six Flags Magic Mountain, or splashing around Hurricane Harbor or the Aquatics Center, one thing is for certain — it will be hot.

The SCV is no stranger to the sun and residents should not be strangers to protecting their skin.

Before basking in the sun this summer, clinicians at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital urge Santa Claritans to heed cancer risk warnings and be smart about sun protection.

“Many people believe that a tan enhances their appearance and makes them look younger and healthier,” said Dr. Thomas Joseph, oncologist and Newhall Memorial Cancer Committee chair. “The truth is that frequent exposure to the sun causes premature aging and makes the skin become thick, wrinkled and leathery.”

But the most dangerous consequence of sun exposure isn’t wrinkles or leathery skin, Joseph said. It’s a significantly increased risk of skin cancer.

The American Cancer Society reports skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 1 million cases diagnosed annually in the United States.

According to the ACS Web site, there are more cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year than breast, prostate, lung, colon, uterine, ovarian and pancreatic cancers combined. Skin cancer is a result of long-term exposure to sunlight, which emits ultraviolet radiation (UV) rays that damage skin cells. There are two types of rays harmful to the skin.

“UVA rays penetrate deeper and break down the skin’s collagen and elastic fibers, resulting in wrinkles and blemishes,” said Dr. Brian Brosnan, a Panorama City Kaiser Permanente dermatologist. “UVB rays burn and damage the skin’s layers, leading to DNA damage which promotes skin cancer.”

Skin cancer can affect anyone, but it is more common in people who spend a lot of time in the sun or have been sunburned, have light-colored skin, hair and eyes, have a family member with skin cancer, and are over age 50.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the darker skinned population has nothing to worry about.

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Web site, melanoma, a more dangerous type of cancer, is often deadlier in people with darker skin due to delayed detection,

“While there is no question that people of color are less likely to become afflicted with skin cancer, they are much more likely to die from it due to a delay in detection,” said Dr. Perry Robins,  president of The Skin Cancer Foundation.

People of all ages and ethnicities need to protect their skin from the sun’s damaging rays everyday, even if the sun is hiding behind some clouds.

“Although most people know that sunburns can occur even on a cloudy or winter day, many don’t realize that most skin damage occurs before age 18 and each sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer,” said Dr. Bernard Raskin, dermatologist and skin cancer expert affiliated with Newhall Memorial. “It’s important to protect children and yourself by limiting the exposure to strong sunlight and adopting sun protection measures throughout the year.”

Sun protection measures include wearing long sleeved shirts, a hat that shades the ears and neck, and sunglasses to protect the eyes and the sensitive skin around them.

Raskin also advises protective measures against skin damage by staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when it is strongest, by fully covering all exposed body areas with sunscreen, and by avoiding sunlamps and tanning beds.

Newhall Memorial recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, reapplying every two hours when spending time outdoors.

Raskin also recommends checking skin regularly for any suspicious skin markings or changes in the size, shape, color or feel of birthmarks, moles and spots and seeking prompt medical attention if anything is discovered.            

“Coupled with a yearly skin exam by a doctor, self-examination of your skin once a month is the best way to detect the early warning signs,” said Raskin. “Caught in the early stages, skin cancer is almost always curable.”

For more information about the symptoms, risks and treatment of skin cancer, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org or The Skin Cancer Foundation at www.skincancer.org. For more information about Henry Mayo Newhall Memoria Hospital’s services or to locate a physician, visit Newhall Memorial’s Web site at www.henrymayo.com.

 

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