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May 30, 2011

Melanoma Monday

As the weather warms up and the sun comes out, don't forget to protect your skin. Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the U.S. today, killing roughly one American every hour, according to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. Moreover, the American Cancer Society estimates that over 68,000 cases of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, will be diagnosed in the United States in 2011 alone, along with 2 million cases of the less severe basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.

The good news is that skin cancer is highly preventable and curable if found early enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 65-90 percent of melanomas are due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which comes from the sun, tanning beds and sun lamps. There are three main types of UV rays, which vary in absorption and severity.

The most common type, UVA rays, penetrate deep into the skin and damage connective tissue. UVB rays, though they are less common and penetrate less deeply, are still damaging. UVC rays are the most harmful. They are absorbed by the ozone layer and thus do not usually reach the ground. When one's skin is exposed to too many of these harmful UV rays, it can prematurely age as well as be permanently damaged. Eye conditions, including cataracts, are also linked with UV rays.

While fair- or light-skinned individuals have a higher risk for UV damage, individuals of all races and ethnicities can get skin cancer. Other risk factors for skin cancer include having a family history of skin cancer or other skin diseases, a higher exposure to chemicals or radiation, many moles or freckles, a history of skin cancer, severe sunburns, or other long-term skin problems, older age, or being male.

Steps you can take to prevent skin cancer include:

For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin, http://www.skincancerprevention.org, and http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/top-sunscreen-tips/.

Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.