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Enjoy the sun, but play it safe

The roller coaster ride of temperatures the Tri-State Area experiences during late spring appears to be ending, and hotter days are right around the corner.

With the return of the late spring sun, it is time for everyone to think about the dangers of skin cancer, especially as we near the end of May, which is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with 3.5 million skin cancers in more than 2 million people diagnosed annually. Fortunately, skin cancer also is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.

That said, the statistics surrounding the disease can be sobering.

About one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon, according to the foundation.

Melanoma accounts for about 3 percent of skin cancer cases, but it accounts for more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths, the foundation reported. The American Academy of Dermatology, meanwhile, says that 9,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer each day –and nearly 20 die from the disease each day.

While the number of new melanoma cases is expected to increase by 7.7 percent this year, the number of melanoma deaths is expected to decrease by 22 percent, the foundation reported. Of the estimated 7,230 people who will die of melanoma this year, 4,740 will be men.

There are other differences in the numbers involving men and women. For example, the majority of people who develop melanoma are white men older than 55.

But up until age 49, significantly more white women develop melanoma than white men (one in 150 women vs. one in 215 men). From age 50 on, significantly more men develop melanoma than women. Overall, one in 27 white men and one in 40 white women will develop melanoma in their lifetimes.

Melanoma accounts for 7 percent of new cancer cases in males and 5 percent of new cancer cases in females, with women 39 and under having a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer, except breast cancer.

The survival rate for persons diagnosed early with melanoma is about 99 percent. But the survival rate falls to 15 percent for those with advanced stages of the disease.

Studies have shown that a person gets about 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure by the time they reach 18. Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for young adults 15 to 29 years old.

When skin cancer does develop, treatment comes at a high price, the foundation adds, with the cost of caring for skin cancers in the United States hitting a staggering $8.1 billion.

Everyone needs to remember some safety tips to avoid sunburn and limiting exposure to the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Since most of a lifetime exposure to the sun comes early in life, it is important to protect infants, children and teenagers from blistering sunburns, keeping in mind that just one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence can double a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life.

The most obvious way to protect yourself from harmful UV radiation is to stay out of the sun. Stay indoors or find shade in the middle of the day when UV radiation is strongest, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Plan outdoor activities for the early morning or late afternoon, when UV radiation is typically one-third of what it is at midday.

If you have to be outside in the sun, remember to cover your skin with long-sleeved shirts, long pants, wide-brimmed hats and to wear sunglasses. When choosing your sunglasses, make sure that they reduce glare, filter out 100 percent of UV rays, protect your eyes, are comfortable to wear and do not distort colors, according to Prevent Blindness. Cumulative UV damage has been linked to the development of macular degeneration, cataracts and cancer, the organization added. It also can cause immediate injury, such as a corneal sunburn that occurs from extended exposure to rays reflected off water, snow or concrete.

Don’t forget to apply a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 on all exposed skin at least 15 minutes, and preferably 30 minutes, before you head outside, and remember to reapply sunscreen after you swim or sweat.

Also, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends to check your birthday suit on your birthday and seek a dermatologist’s help if you notice any changes in your skin.

As you head outdoors to enjoy the sunny skies that are heading our way, remember to take precautions to avoid your chances of getting skin cancer.

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