By Peggy Davis, RN, Director, Health Promotion, Independent Health

Cancer of the skin, including melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, is the most common of all cancers. More than 1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year. Caucasians and men older than 50 years of age are at a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population.

Some of the risk factors for developing skin cancer include:
•Having had a skin cancer: Anyone who has had a skin cancer has a much higher chance of being diagnosed with another one.
•Too much exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation: The main source of UV radiation is sunlight. People who are often exposed to strong sunlight without protection have a greater risk of skin cancer.
•Fair skin: People with fair or light-colored skin that freckles or burns easily are at especially high risk.
•Smoking: Smoking is a risk factor for squamous cell skin cancer, which is a type of non-melanoma cancer.

Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you can have fun in the sun and decrease your risk of skin cancer by following these tips:
•Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more to all exposed skin. “Broad-spectrum” provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
•Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
•Seek shade when appropriate. Remember that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade.
•Protect children from sun exposure. Be sure to direct them to play in the shade, wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen.
•Use extra caution near water, snow and sand because they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chances of sunburn.
•Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements.
•Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.

It is always important to remember to keep an eye on birthmarks, moles and blemishes on your body. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early. Therefore, if you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, contact your doctor immediately.

To learn more about Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, please visit the American Academy of Dermatology’s website at www.aad.org.

For more information about food labels and food allergies, visit www.fda.gov.

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