Prevention best medicine for skin cancer

July 25, 2010 at 8:42 pm

*publlished July 25, 2010
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Local doctors say residents need to protect their skin even if they are not going to the beach or are out boating.

“We know one of the major risk factors for melanoma is a history of sun exposure and burn early in life,” said Dr. James Gaharan, an oncologist at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, who said the majority of his patients contracted melanoma after having a history of sunburn.

“A lot were out and about and just never used sunblock,” Gaharan said.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology called melanoma, a form of skin cancer, a major public health problem in the United States.

The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Trend Progress Report for 2009/2010 says there were 68,720 new cases of melanoma skin cancer in 2009.

The main cause is unprotected exposure to the sun or artificial light.

“The main goal is to prevent sunburn by putting on sunblock every day,” Gaharan said. “I’m sure if you took a poll of road construction crews, many of them aren’t wearing sunblock.”

The level of SPF to use depends on the person’s complexion, Gaharan said.

“It’s preferable for a fairskinned, freckled person to stay out of the sun as much as possible, but if they are out, they should be using higher SPF like 50 and 100,” Gaharan said.

He said oilve-toned or darker person’s would be fine with SPF 30 sunblocks.

“It’s not nearly as common, but African-Americans can contract melanoma, too, if the person has not protected his or her skin.

A recent study by the University of Michigan showed that although the incidence of skin cancer is 10 times higher among whites, African Americans who contracted mela–noma had a much lower survival rate.

Of the 2,187 adults surveyed, 63 percent said they never use sunscreen and 31 percent said they protected themselves from the sun in at least one way, such as wearing a hat.

Gaharan said the risk of contracting melanoma is just as high when using a tanning bed.

“The last study I saw showed regular tanning bed users were at a way higher risk of contracting melanoma,” Gaharan said.

The study was released in June by professors at Brown University’s School of Medicine
A study of 2,269 patients found that those who used tanning beds the most — for 10 years of more —- were 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than others.

Gaharan also said early detection of melanoma skin cancer is also very important.

“If you have a lesion or mole that changes in some way, it’s time to get it checked out,” Gaharan said.

‘Don’t let it sneak up on you’
For children, who may be more susceptible because of their sensitive skin, sunblock is essential, said pediatrician Anatole Karpovs.

Karpovs said sunblock is especially important during peak hours of the day, between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The American Association of Pediatrics says sunscreen is safe for children as young as six months, but Karpovs said he usually recommends two months.

“There have been tests that show it’s safe for very young children,” Karpovs said.

He said the sunscreen should be at least SPF 30 and parents should test a small area on the child’s body to make sure there isn’t any redness, irritation or some type of reaction, before putting it all over the child’s body.

“I had a rare occurrence earlier this year where parents brought in a child with second-degree burns on her shoulders,” Karpovs said. “It just snuck up on them.”

Karpovs said he also thinks people are not paying much attention to tanning beds and the doses of radiation from them.

“I don’t have many parents asking about allowing their teenagers to tan,” Karpovs said. “They don’t really see an issue with it.”

Karpovs said he would always leave the decision up to the parent, but he believes tanning definitely damages the skin.

“Along with health risks, in the long-term, the person will have issues with premature aging of the skin,” Karpovs said.

He said he thinks people in general are more aware and educated about how important it is protect your skin from the sun, but it’s a slow change.

“There is a cultural thing with tans, and I think people just need to get to a point where they feel more comfortable in their own skin,” Karpovs said.

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