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Don't Be Lulled by the Sun

Advice on how to avoid skin cancer

SATURDAY, June 26, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Warnings about the risks of exposure to the sun are perhaps so prevalent that they're apparently going unheeded.

Despite widespread knowledge that suntans and burns can increase the risk for skin cancer, a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that about 43 percent of white children under age 12 had been sunburned at least once in the past year.

With skin cancers accounting for more than half of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year, the warnings are not likely to let up.

The most preventable risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, and you don't need to become a hermit to protect yourself. Activities such as going to the beach or taking that bike ride can be enjoyed safely if you take a few easy precautions, says the American Academy of Dermatology.

First and foremost, make sure to wear a waterproof sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15, or preferably higher if you're going to be in stronger sun.

A good time to use that higher SPF sunscreen would be if you're going to be out between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. -- the hours when the sun is strongest. If possible, try planning activities earlier or later in the day -- cooler temperatures may make the activities more enjoyable anyway.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face and head, and try to stay in the shade.

Don't be fooled into believing artificial sources of sunlight are any safer than the real thing -- the American Cancer Society says indoor tanning is just as bad for your skin as sunlight.

The good news about skin cancer is that the most common forms can be treated and even cured if detected early enough. Examine your body regularly for any unusual moles or discoloring, and make sure to see your dermatologist if you see anything suspicious.

More information

Find out your risk of developing skin cancer in the American Academy of Dermatology Skin Cancer Risk Test.

SOURCES: American Cancer Society; American Academy of Dermatology; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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