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To Your Health: A bright idea: Get smart about skin cancer

Dr. May Chow  |  Supplied photo

Dr. May Chow | Supplied photo

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Updated: August 3, 2014 6:09AM



Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined.

As for the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma, the American Cancer Society reports that 120,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

A common misconception is that you cannot die from skin cancer. In fact, one person dies of melanoma every hour.

Skin cancer is also impacting people at very early ages. In fact, I recently removed a walnut-size melanoma from a 19-year-old patient who had frequented tanning beds for five years. The final excision with margin was 15 cm (or 5 inches) in diameter.

Melanoma is life-threatening. If untreated, it will be fatal.

As a dermatologist who has devoted my professional life to fighting skin cancer, I am frustrated by the increased incidence of skin cancer because it is also the most preventable of all cancers. In most cases, preventing skin cancer means following some very simple, common sense guidelines.

Seek the shade. Most skin cancer cases are the result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from unprotected exposure to the sun. So avoid prolonged exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Do not burn. Sunburn is radiation damage. Radiation is radiation, and too much exposure is very dangerous whether the source is an X-ray machine, the sun or a tanning bed.

Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths. Tanning beds emit UVA rays, which deeply penetrate the skin and are one of the causes of most melanoma cases. The tanning bed is a radiation booth.

Cover up. Protect yourself with clothing with SPF 100, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

Apply sunscreen. Use a broad spectrum
(UVA/UVB), water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 60 or higher every day. Apply a minimum of one ounce, or two tablespoons of sunscreen, to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating excessively.

Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of 6 months.

Examine your skin. Regularly check your skin head to toe every month for abnormal-looking lesions.

Get a skin checkup every year. See your dermatologist every year for a professional skin examination.

There is absolutely no truth to the myth that people of color are immune to skin cancer. Radiation does not discriminate. In fact, Asian-American and African-American melanoma patients have a greater tendency than Caucasians to present with advanced disease at the time of diagnosis.

Everyone should be familiar with the types of skin cancer, treatment options and steps to reduce the risk of skin cancer. So I am conducting a free community seminar entitled “Get Smart About Skin Cancer.” It will be held at 6 p.m. July 8 on the Franciscan St. James Olympia Fields campus, 20201 S. Crawford Ave. Admission is free, but seating is limited. Visit Franciscan
StJames.org or call (800) 785-2637 to register.

Summer’s here. Please plan to protect yourself and your family this year.

Dr. May J. Chow is a board-certified Specialty Physicians of Illinois dermatologist who chooses to practice at Franciscan St. James Health. Franciscan St. James is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.



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