‘Tan is the color of injury’
It’s springtime, and it’s hard to resist the urge to mow the lawn, climb a rock face or just enjoy the sunshine while exposing plenty of bare skin. But what you expose to the sun may one day kill you, oncologists warn, because the causes of melanoma – skin cancer – are both easily overlooked and easily avoided. Some skin cancer facts to think about, according to Dr. Ira Jaffrey, a credentialed oncologist at Valley View Hospital and director of Western Slope Oncology: • Statistically, there will be more than 62,000 new cases of skin cancer in 2006. • In people younger than 40, men have a one in 800 chance of getting melanoma, while women have a one in 470 chance. • Both men and women are most likely to contract melanoma after age 40, but the chances go up drastically for women between the ages 60 and 69.
• There is a 92 percent five-year survival rate for Caucasians with melanoma, but only a 76 percent five-year survival rate for African Americans. Because most harmful sun exposure occurs before most people turn 15, it’s important to make sure kids’ skin is protected from the sun, Jaffrey said. Melanoma most often occurs as a mole – even one that’s been on your skin for decades – that changes shape, color or thickness. “If you have a (mole) that’s been there for 10 years that’s been flat and suddenly it feels bumpy, it needs to be brought to your doctor’s attention,” Jaffrey said, adding that if a mole looks like something took a bite out of it, the mole could be malignant and a doctor should examine it. There are critical places to check besides neck, face, back and temples, he said, including the soles of your feet, and the skin between your fingers and toes. “Prevention and early detection are critical,” he said. “The quicker you find it, the less invasive it would be.”The bigger and deeper cancerous moles are, the deadlier they become. For example, Jaffrey said, if melanomas reach a thickness of four millimeters, they’re deadly 70 percent of the time.
But if the melanoma is only superficial, he said, they are often quite survivable. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about sun exposure, he said, is that “there is no such thing as a sun tan.” A sun tan is damaged skin, and can lead to cancer. That’s the message of retired oncologist and anti-tanning bed crusader and retired plastic surgeon Dr. José Rodriguez, of Rifle, who in the mid 1980s, led a movement to get the Colorado Legislature to outlaw tanning beds. The effort failed, but that didn’t stop him from spreading the word about the dangers of sun exposure. “Tanning beds produce the same type of radiation and injury to skin that will produce skin damage,” Rodriguez said.The bottom line, Rodriguez said, is stay away from tanning beds and keep your skin covered as much as possible while you’re outside, no matter how hot it is. Though sunscreen helps, it’s effect is often misunderstood.
“The problem with sunscreen (is that) people take it as a cure,” Jaffrey said. But, he said, sunscreen only delays a sun burn, and doesn’t completely prevent skin damage. The trick is to apply sunscreen frequently, and cover as much skin as possible, he said. And for all you hikers and mountaineers out there, here’s another fact to ponder while you’re rubbing on the Coppertone: Exposure to sun radiation increases 4 percent with each 1,000 feet you climb in elevation. Do the math: At the summit of Mt. Elbert, you’ll be exposed to greater than 56 percent more cancer-causing radiation than you would while playing volleyball in only a swimsuit in Daytona Beach, Fla. For anyone going outside, Rodriguez has this advice: Wear long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats – to cover those oft-ignored temples – all year long, and never lay outside to get a tan. “Tan is the color of injury,” he said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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