Summer sun safety

Cover up, use sunscreen to help avoid skin cancer

Cover up, use sunscreen to help avoid skin cancer

May 09, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

As a carpenter, Joseph Hart often worked in short sleeves or without a shirt and sunscreen.

That's probably what led to the melanoma he discovered about four years ago on his right arm, the Huyetts Crossroads area resident said.

Now a cancer survivor, Hart, 84, said he covers up with long sleeves, long pants and a straw hat when he ventures out in the sun.

To raise awareness about skin cancer, Washington County Hospital is setting up a machine this week that shows people the sun damage to their facial skin, said Cheryl Stouffer, oncology care specialist.


The machine isn't designed to show skin cancer, but it does give people an idea of how much damage the sun can do to unprotected skin and shows damaged areas that could become skin cancer, Stouffer said.

The machine will be set up in the hospital lobby from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. today through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday in Robinwood Medical Center's atrium for free sun damage assessments, hospital officials said.

People also can pick up free lip balm with sun protection factor (SPF) 15, laminated cards that show the different types of skin cancer and other information, Stouffer said.

Types of skin cancer

Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that grows fast and can spread to other parts of the body by cancer cells traveling through lymph nodes or the bloodstream, Stouffer said.

It usually is fatal if the cancer cells spread to the liver, so it is important to detect skin cancer early, Stouffer said.

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers also can be fatal, but are less aggressive than melanoma, Stouffer said. Basal and squamous have a 95 percent cure rate if detected early and removed.

Eighty percent of the 1 million new cases of skin cancer each year are basal cells, Stouffer said. Basal cells appear in the top layer of skin, usually on arms and the face, particularly the nose, because those areas tend to get more sun exposure.

Sixteen percent of new skin cancer cases are squamous cells, which appear deeper in the skin, Stouffer said.

They, too, usually appear on areas exposed to the sun, she said.

Melanomas account for 4 percent of new skin cancer cases. They can be found on any part of the body, but usually are found on parts that had significant sunburn, Stouffer said.

From 1997 to 2001 in Washington County, there were 161 reported cases of melanomas or at an annual rate of 23.1 cases of melanoma per 100,000 people, according to the American Cancer Society.

That tied Washington County with Carroll County for the seventh-highest incidence rate in the state.

While Maryland had a higher incidence rate (16.9) for melanoma than West Virginia (15.2), the Mountain State had a higher mortality rate from melanomas (3.1 deaths per 100,000 people), than Maryland (2.5). Comparable Pennsylvania statistics were not available.


Using sunscreen, covering skin and avoiding the sun's peak hours are ways to protect yourself from getting skin cancer, Stouffer said.

Sunscreen isn't just for the beach.

People should get into a routine of applying sunscreen when they are going to be outside in the sun, Stouffer said. While it's obvious to many people that ultraviolet rays are strong in the summer, they also are strong in winter.

Both UVA rays and UVB rays can lead to skin cancer.

UVA rays are the burning rays that can be blocked by window glass and are the primary cause of sunburn and skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology's Web site.

UVB rays can pass through window glass, penetrating deeper into the base layer of skin, according to

The American Academy of Dermotology's Web site offers the following tips for protection from the sun:

n Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 on exposed skin and lips, even on cloudy days.

n Use a water-resistant sunscreen if exposed to water through swimming or sweat.

n Reapply sunscreen at least every 90 minutes, more often if sunny or perspiring heavily.

n Wear a broad-rimmed hat and sunglasses.

n Seek shade when possible.

n Wear tightly woven clothing.

n Plan outdoor activities early or late in the day to avoid exposure to peak sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

People usually get most of their severe sun exposure before age 18 so it's important to make sure children are using sunscreen properly, Stouffer said.

According to the American Cancer Society's Web site at, some factors that can increase the likelihood of melanoma include:

n Being white. The risk of melanoma is 20 times higher for whites than African Americans.

n Having red or blond hair and fair skin that freckles or burns easily. Having blue eyes also increases the risk of developing melanoma.

n A family history of melanoma.

n Having been treated

with medicines that suppress the immune system.

n Being a man. Odds are 1 in 57 that a man will develop melanoma compared with 1 in 81 for a woman.

n Getting older increases the odds of getting melanoma.

n Having had a melanoma.

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