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Play it safe when you’re in the sun

Longer days, warmer temperatures and knowing that the official start of summer is not that far off mean that most of us are looking forward to being able to spend more time in the sun.

Before you head out, though, we ask that you take a few moments to pause and think about the toll all of those ultraviolet rays can do to your skin and your health. It’s especially important this time of year, and the reason May has been designated as National Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reminds us that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Around 20 percent of Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old, the foundation said, while adding that 1.8 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year — that’s 205 cases every hour. It’s projected that there will be 197,700 cases of melanoma diagnosed in 2022, and the cost of treatment will be $8 billion.

Sadly, it’s estimated that 7,650 people will die of skin cancer this year — 5,080 men and 2,570 women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the age-adjusted incidence rate of melanoma of the skin per 100,000 people between 2014-18 in the United States was 25. In our region, that number for Ohio and Pennsylvania is 24, while West Virginia checks in at 22.

Breaking it down further, the rate in Jefferson County is 22.2. It’s 20 in Harrison County, 22.6 in Belmont County, 21.9 in Columbiana County and 17.9 in Carroll County. Rates in Hancock and Brooke counties in West Virginia are 19.3 and 16.6, respectively, while in Pennsylvania they are 23.2 percent in Allegheny County, 21.5 in Beaver County and 20.1 in Washington County.

Numbers from the foundation show that your risk of developing skin cancer more than doubles if you have had five or more sunburns in your life, and that a person will receive more than 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure by the time they are 18.

While everyone needs to be careful, it’s critical to protect infants, children and teenagers. That can sometimes be easier said than done — according to the National Institutes of Health, between 2015 and 2017, 57.2 percent of high school students have suffered sunburn. Girls (61.6 percent) were more likely to fall into that category than boys (52.8 percent.)

To keep your exposure to a minimum, stay indoors or find shade in the middle of the day, especially between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV radiation is the strongest.

Whenever you have to be outside, cover your skin with long-sleeved shirts, long pants, wide-brimmed hats and always wear sunglasses. When you go outside, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 on all exposed skin. Apply the sunscreen at least 15 minutes, preferably 30, before heading out in the sun.

These rules apply even on a cloudy day — remember, it’s not the light that damages the skin, it’s the ultraviolet radiation which will still be present.

Avoid tanning beds and contact a dermatologist if you notice changes in your skin.

Those numbers might paint a bleak picture, but it’s not all bad — the survival rate for a person diagnosed early with melanoma is about 99 percent, with that number dropping sharply for those who delay treatment or whose cancers are diagnosed in later stages.

Enjoy the sunshine that we are sure to be experiencing during the summer months — and remember to take precautions to avoid the chance that you — or someone in your family — will get skin cancer.

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