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Health Center Today, May 6, 2010

Melanoma Awareness Month Ė Protect Yourself Against Sunís Damaging Rays

By Carolyn Pennington

Photo of sunscreenAs we head in to the hot summer months, itís important to take precautions to protect your skin from the sunís damaging rays.

Dr. Jane Grant-Kels, head of dermatology at the Health Center, reminds tanning enthusiasts that the sun is a carcinogen and a tan, as well as a burn, are signs of damage to your skin.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. They usually form on the head, face, neck, hands and arms.

Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, accounts for only about 4 to 5 percent of all skin cancer cases but it causes the most skin cancer-related deaths. Grant-Kels says the chance of developing melanoma increases with age, yet it is still one of the most common cancers in young adults. Studies have confirmed that sun exposure is responsible for the development of at least two-thirds of all melanomas.

Studies have also shown that sunburn is often the result of incorrect use of sunscreen. Since people frequently apply only 20 to 50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen, they only receive 20 to 50 percent of the SPF.

To protect yourself:

  • Stay out of the sun when it is strongest (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses that provide 100 percent UV ray protection
  • Avoid sunlamps and tanning beds

Check your skin regularly for changes in the size, shape, color or feel of birthmarks, moles and spots. Such changes are a sign of skin cancer.

More information about the Department of Dermatology is available at To schedule an appointment, call 860-679-4600.