Is that tan a healthy glow or a deadly foe?

The statistics are startling: One American dies of melanoma every 52 minutes. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined number of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer cases. These statistics are even more tragic because, in many cases, skin cancer is preventable.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States today. This year, more than 76,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. In Michigan alone, 2,560 new cases of melanoma will be detected. Nationwide, more than two million people will be diagnosed with other forms of skin cancer. While natural sunlight is still the primary environmental cause of skin cancer, indoor tanning is becoming an epidemic and is the cause of 420,000 skin cancer cases each year. Learning, teaching and practicing sun-safety is vital to reducing these numbers.

Sun protection is particularly important for children. Childhood sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer later in life, so practicing sun-safety with your family can have a major impact on your children’s health down the line. Teach good habits early. When outside, wearing sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, protective clothing and lip balm should become as routine for children as brushing their teeth.

Tanned skin might be the “in” look, but it is just not worth the risk—so when your teenager begs to visit the indoor tanning salon before prom or to get a “base tan” before spring break, just say no. We also need to encourage our college-age daughters and sons to avoid indoor tanning salons the same way we teach them not to smoke; this is especially important because tanning salons are now found in alarming numbers on and near college campuses.

We should all avoid exposure while the sun is brightest (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) — but when you are out in the sun, it is critical to follow these guidelines; Use sunscreen and lip balm with UVB and UVA protection with at least SPF 30, even on cloudy days, Apply an ounce of sunscreen (a palm full) 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours if outside, Wear sunglasses that have been treated to absorb UV radiation, a wide-brimmed hat and clothing made of tightly-woven material with long sleeves.

You should also have your health care professional examine your skin every year, and talk to your doctor if you have any moles that follow the ABCDE rule (asymmetry, border irregularity, color not uniform, diameter greater than 6 mm or evolving size, shape or color).

As the sun heats up, remember that there is no such thing as a healthy tan—and no one is immune to getting skin cancer.

For more information on skin cancer risk factors, prevention and early detection, visit www.preventcancer.org.

 

Amey Upton is the spouse of Representative Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and is a member of Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Statistics are provided by the American Cancer Society.

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