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July 3, 2012 > Summer Sun? Keep Your Skin Safe

Summer Sun? Keep Your Skin Safe

Dermatologist Talks About Causes, Prevention and Management of Skin Cancer

Summertime is here. Warmer weather. Sunshine. And we're spending more time enjoying the outdoors, which means our skin is, too.

As the largest organ of the body, the skin has many important functions, including providing a vital layer of protection from the outside, helping to maintain a constant body temperature, and making us aware of external stimuli.

While one of the skin's main jobs is to protect, it is susceptible to damage from the sun's rays - either from prolonged exposure or even a single acute burn - that can lead to skin cancer. Next Tuesday, July 17, Sunil Dhawan, M.D. a dermatologist on the Washington Hospital medical staff, will present a skin cancer screening and lecture.

"This seminar is meant to help people understand the causes of skin cancer and how to prevent it, as well as to talk about management of the disease," Dr. Dhawan states. "Usually older, fair-skinned individuals are at high risk for skin cancer. The screening hopefully will help address those at risk. Typically 10 percent to 20 percent of cases we see during the screening are issues that need to be taken care."

He says it's a good idea to pay attention to your skin to identify any spots that are growing or changing so that you can address the problem early.

"It's important to see the dermatologist if you notice changes in your skin, because it could be a melanoma, which needs to be removed as soon as possible," he says.

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin disease since it is fast growing and, if left untreated, quickly spreads to other organs of the body. According to the most recent statistics cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2008, 59,695 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, including 38,484 men and 25,211 women. Of those, 8,623 people in the United States died from melanomas of the skin, including 5,672 men and 2,951 women.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) represents the most common type of skin cancer and typically causes localized damage to the skin. Unlike melanoma, it most often does not metastasize to other areas of the body. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are an estimated 2.8 million cases of BCC diagnosed in the United States annually, making it the most frequently occurring form of all cancers.

"By visiting the dermatologist, you can identify and address pre-cancers early," according to Dr. Dhawan. "There are also preventive creams to abort early skin cancer, something people are often not aware of."

"It's best to get seen and get started on prevention strategy."
He adds that safe sun practices include:
* Staying out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
* Wearing sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher!)
* Reapplying sunscreen at regular intervals
* Avoiding tanning booths

"I estimate that less than 20 percent of people have good skin cancer prevention habits," Dr. Dhawan says, adding: "Skin cancer is common enough that someone you know has some type of skin cancer or will get it in their lifetime."

He points out that skin cancer cases have stayed constant or gone up in recent years, explaining that it takes 20 to 25 years for prevention measures to take effect. In other words, for younger generations, it's what you do now to protect your skin that will cut your skin cancer risk many decades into the future.

Dr. Dhawan says one of the biggest mistakes he sees people make in regard to skin cancer prevention is misunderstanding the sun protection factor, also known as SPF, listed on sunscreens.

"People don't apply sunscreen regularly," he says. "All too often they assume a high SPF will protect them for longer, when a higher SPF only protects for two to three hours at a time regardless of the number."

To learn more about the causes, prevention, and management of skin cancer - and have your skin examined by a dermatologist - attend the upcoming seminar and screening on Tuesday, July 17. The screening will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. with the lecture following from 7 to 9 p.m., in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A and B, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont.

To register, call (800) 960-7070 or visit www.whhs.com.

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