Friday, May 22, 2009

"Don't Fry Day"

Today is Don't Fry Day, designated by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention to help raise public awareness of skin cancer and prevention methods as we all prepare for the kick-off to summer!

The Friday before Memorial Day is the perfect time to remind people of the serious affects from UV exposure, as well as reiterate the various ways we can protect our skin while still enjoying the warm temps and the glorious sun.

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime.

As I am sure many of you would attest, we become wiser with age. As teenagers, we rarely apply adequate amounts of sunscreen (despite mom's reminders) in hopes of attaining that bronze glow. I can remember lathering-up in tanning oil, and as long as it had SPF 4 I believed I was protected. I rarely burned, and if I did "it would turn into a tan the next day." After all, I had Portuguese in my blood and olive colored skin, so I was immune to skin cancer.

During the summer of 2005, I noticed a mole on my inner thigh. I thought nothing of it, and simply said to my doctor, "Will you please check this, so my mother will stop nagging me about it?" She biopsied it that day.

I had malignant melanoma.

One week later I was at MD Anderson in Houston, sitting in a waiting room staring at people that looked as normal as I did. But I also saw men and women with bodies scarred from surgeries; disfigured faces that resembled the spot a nose or ear once existed.

I know that visual is graphic, but it is reality.

Many assume, myself once included, that our earlier sun exposure will not affect us. On the contrary, one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life.

Now, you may not get melanoma; however, there are three types of skin cancer that affect Americans yearly.

* Basil Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. This type is rarely fatal, but can be highly disfiguring.

* Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, and accounts for nearly 2,500 deaths.

* Melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers. The incidence of melanoma continues to rise significantly, and at a faster rate than any of the seven most common cancers.

Tanning beds are another culprit in the steady rise of skin cancer . In fact, frequent tanners using the new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure.

I have always felt a bit hypocritical preaching to people about tanning, when I was once an avid tanner myself. To be honest with you all, I crave tanning. I miss it during the summer. I often find myself resenting those who tan, because despite my surgery and all my follow-up appointments, and despite the large scar that serves as a daily reminder, I still yearn to lay by the pool for hours with my tanning oil in one hand and an umbrella drink in the other.

But we all struggle to do things for the betterment of ourselves. We diet to maintain a healthy weight, even when we'd rather eat ice cream and cookies. We go for long arduous runs when we'd rather sit on the couch. So look at skin cancer prevention in the same manner. Enjoy the sun, in moderation and always protect yourself. The bronze glow may take longer to achieve, but it will look better than a scary hospital stay that ends in scarring and an everlasting effect on your body and well being.

So, as summer approaches, this day serves as a reminder to all of us to treat our bodies with respect. Here are a few skin cancer prevention guidelines:

* Seek the shade, especially between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.
* Do not burn.
* Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
* Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
* Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours.
* Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
* Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
* Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
* See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

For additional information on skin cancer prevention, or to locate the sources for the information used in this article click here.

Stay safe in the sun, and enjoy the gorgeous weather than lies ahead.

Don't forget your hat and sunscreen!

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