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Health Team

Cover up, seek shade to help prevent skin cancer

Posted May 9

Of all cancers, skin cancer is the most common.

Melanoma represents only about 1 percent of all skin cancers, but it's responsible for most skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

People with melanoma are surviving longer these day, though, thanks to newer treatments that boost our immune system to attack the cancer.

"These immunotherapies, these therapies that increase the immune system's strength if you will, they basically unbind the immune system and they go after the tumor, anywhere the tumor may be," said Cleveland Clinic plastic surgeon Brian Gastman.

Gastman said that while recent melanoma drugs have helped improve survival, better biopsy techniques and improved surgical accuracy have also contributed.

When melanoma is found and treated early, before it has spread to the lymph nodes or farther, people live longer.

Sun exposure is the biggest cause of melanoma, so it's best to reduce your risk by protecting skin from the sun.

You should seek shady areas, wear sun protective clothing, a broad brimmed hat, protective sunglasses and use sunscreen labeled "broad spectrum" with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Also, keep an eye out for situations that may expose the skin to ultraviolet light in less obvious ways.

"Let' s say you work in an office or a storefront, you' re near a window; you' re driving a lot, you're near a window. You're outside but you're covered up, the problem is your clothes don' t have UV protection, those are times where you may be letting yourself get a risk, and you could prevent that," Gastman said.

In general, skin cancer risk increases with age, likely due to exposure to UV radiation from the sun over your lifetime. However, that doesn't mean we aren't seeing skin cancers in younger people, especially those who spend more time in the sun.

Also at risk are people with compromised immune systems, such as those people with HIV or organ transplant patients.

Men have a greater risk than women for developing basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas, which might be due to working out in the sun more.

Different skin colors play a role as well, but that doesn't mean African Americans can't get skin cancer. Fair skinned people do have the greatest risk, though, especially those with lighter eye colors and whose skin freckles more easily.

Most moles on the skin are harmless, but having many moles can increase your risk for melanoma

A family history of skin cancer also plays a role in your risk for skin cancer.

For those with some or all of these risk factors, see a dermatologist and have them do a full body exam to identify potential problems spots.

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