Despite Skin Cancer Risk, Too Many Still Tan

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Skin Cancer

Siteman Cancer Center Surgeon Says Avoid Overexposure

Despite warnings about the dangers of skin cancer, many Americans will ignore the risk this summer and hope to get what they believe is a healthy bronze glow. This while one in five Americans is affected by skin cancer and the number of young people with skin cancer is increasing.

It's a disturbing trend to Jeffrey Peterson, MD, dermatologic surgeon at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. He says people should not be in the sun for an extended period of time. "The sun has ultraviolet rays that penetrate into our skin and damages the DNA," says Dr. Peterson. "And over time the DNA damage will cause the skin cells to become cancerous."

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, killing one of every seven diagnosed. "Melanoma can arise in a mole, so if you see a mole that has changed, a mole that begins to itch, a mole that grows or a mole that bleeds you need to contact your physician immediately," says Dr. Peterson. Signs of skin cancer can be as common as a pimple, mole or age spot. "Skin cancer can appear as a pearly, clear bump on the nose looking like a pimple or a red scaly area on the face," says Dr. Peterson.

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To prevent the damaging effects of the sun, Dr. Peterson recommends avoiding the direct rays of the sun. He also recommends wearing a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. "I emphasize sunscreen because people don't normally put enough on," he says. "An eight ounce bottle should only last eight applications, and unfortunately that eight ounce bottle will last the whole summer for most Americans."

Dr. Peterson also recommends educating children and teenagers about the damaging effects of the sun as they are at higher risk for over exposure. "We need to educate children at a young age to get into the habit of wearing sunscreen," he says.

"To a lot of teenagers, a tan is considered healthy and white pasty skin is considered unhealthy," says Dr. Peterson. "The only way to get around this notion is to educate your kids when they are younger, when they're two and three years old, before they go out they need to put sunscreen on so they get into the habit of wearing sunscreen."

Dermatologists recommend people of normal risk visit a dermatologist for a skin cancer check every three years until age 40 and every year after that while those at high risk should see their doctor on a yearly basis. For a free skin cancer awareness kit call the Siteman Cancer Center at 800-600-3606 or 314-747-7222.

June 13, 2005, ST. LOUIS

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