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May 17, 2011 > Have Fun in the Sun, but...

Have Fun in the Sun, but...

After a wet, gray winter and early spring, the warm weather has finally arrived and most people are celebrating by spending more time out of doors. As you enjoy the wonderful spring and summer weather, don't forget how important it is to protect your skin from the sun.

The Centers for Disease Control reminds us that "unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays in as little as 15 minutes. Yet, it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure."

"Skin cancer is increasing very rapidly in the U.S.," states Sunil S. Dhawan, MD, a dermatologist on the medical staff of Washington Hospital. "There's a good chance that most people, or their relative or friend, will get it at some time, especially if they are fair skinned."

On Tuesday, May 24 at 1 p.m., Dr. Dhawan will talk about the effects of the sun on your skin and what you can do to protect yourself from getting skin cancer. The free public seminar "Skin Care and Prevention of Skin Cancer" will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson M.D. Auditorium in the Washington West Building (2500 Mowry Ave.) in Fremont. To reserve your space, register online at and look under Upcoming Seminars, or call (800) 963-7070.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some time during their life, making it the most common type of cancer. Every year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed than cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, with about 2.8 million people diagnosed each year. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type, with about 700,000 Americans diagnosed annually. Fortunately, both of these skin cancers are highly curable.

The third most common skin cancer is melanoma, with an estimated 115,000 new cases diagnosed in 2010. This type of skin cancer is far more dangerous. The American Academy of Dermatology states that one American dies of melanoma almost every hour, with an estimated 8,700 deaths attributable to melanoma in 2010.

In calculating your risk of getting skin cancer, you should be aware that past behavior at work and play dictates some of your risk level. For example, people who have had a job that keeps them outside a lot, such as life guarding or working on a farm, in construction or with outdoor utilities, are more likely to get skin cancer, Dr. Dhawan says. You are also at higher risk if you've done a lot of sun bathing during your life.

The incidence of skin cancer among people who are or have been in the military is on the rise. This includes people who fought during World War II, in Vietnam and, now, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Skin Cancer Foundation, a leading skin cancer education and prevention organization, reports that about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

"The sun produces three kinds of UV rays-UVA, UVB and UVC," explains Dr. Dhawan. "We used to be concerned only with UVB, but we are now finding that UVA is just as important because it also has a significant role in causing premature skin aging, sun spots and skin cancer."

UV rays are invisible to the naked eye. Their classification by UVA, UVB and UVC is based on their wavelength, with UVA being the longest. UVA and UVB rays penetrate our atmosphere, but UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not reach the earth.

During the May 24 seminar on skin cancer, Dr. Dhawan will discuss signs and symptoms of the disease, who is at risk and why. He'll also talk about skin cancer prevention strategies you can follow, including the proper use of sun screen. You should apply a sun block with SPF 30 or higher every day, even if it's not sunny, he recommends.

"If it's light outside, even if there are clouds, the UV rays are there and you should use sun screen," says Dr. Dhawan.

Other effective skin cancer prevention strategies include wearing sun protective clothing, such as hats and long sleeved shirts, and staying out of the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun is at its maximum strength.

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