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Protect Yourself from the Sun: May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Protect Yourself from the Sun: May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month
There is no perfect month to start taking care of your skin than May. Find out what Skin Cancer Awareness Month is aiming to address this year and how to help.
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Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer is called melanoma.

The good news? Skin cancer can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early. Communities, health professionals, and families can work together to prevent skin cancer or detect it early on.

What Are the Key Statistics about Melanoma?

  • Cancer of the skin is the most common of all cancers.
  • More than 1 million cases of basal cell or squamous cell cancers occur every year. Most of these forms of skin cancer are curable.
  • It is estimated that there were about 74,610 new cases of skin cancer in this country in 2009. 68,720 of these cases will be melanoma.
  • About 8,650 people will die of melanoma this year.

Who’s At Risk for Melanoma?

No one knows the exact causes of melanoma. Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop melanoma. The risk factors for melanoma are:

  • Dysplastic nevi. These are larger than normal moles that have irregular borders. They are usually flat but part of the mole is raised above the skin surface. The risk of melanoma is greatest for people with a large number of dysplastic nevi. The risk is especially high for people with a family history of both dysplastic nevi and melanoma.
  • Many (more than 50) ordinary moles. Having many moles increases the risk of developing melanoma.
  • Fair skin. Melanoma occurs more frequently in people who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily (these people also usually have red or blond hair and blue eyes) than in people with dark skin.
  • Personal history of melanoma or skin cancer. People who have been treated for melanoma have a high risk of a second melanoma. Some people develop more than two melanomas. People who had one or more of the common skin cancers are at increased risk of melanoma.
  • Family history of melanoma. Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor. About 10 percent of all patients with melanoma have a family member with this disease. When melanoma runs in a family, all family members should have their skin checked regularly.
  • Weakened immune system. People whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, by drugs given following organ transplants, or by HIV are at an increased risk of developing melanoma.
  • Severe, blistering sunburns. People who have had at least one blistering sunburn as a child or teenager are at increased risk of melanoma. Because of this, doctors advise that parents protect children’s skin from the sun. Such protection may reduce the risk of melanoma later in life. Sunburns in adulthood are also a risk factor for melanoma.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Experts believe that much of the worldwide increase in melanoma is related to an increase in the amount of time people spend in the sun. This disease is also more common in people who live in areas that get large amounts of UV radiation from the sun. In the United States, for example, melanoma is more common in Texas than in Minnesota, where the sun is not as strong. UV radiation from the sun causes premature aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to melanoma.
  • Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, also can cause skin damage and increase the risk of melanoma. Doctors encourage people to limit their exposure to natural UV radiation and to avoid artificial sources.

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