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Fun in the sun: Easy does it

by: FILE PHOTO - A wide-brimmed hat offers protection against too much sun.As the Pacific Northwest region heads into summer, Cancer Treatment Centers of America® at Western Regional Medical Center reminds Oregonians it is important to keep sun safety tips in mind — particularly since Oregon and Washington have some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the country.

“Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said Walter Quan Jr., M.D., melanoma specialist and chief medical oncologist at Western, located in Phoenix, Ariz. “With months of rain and a population that tends to have fairer skin, it’s easy for people in the Pacific Northwest to underestimate their risk for developing skin cancer by over-exposure to the sun.”

Dr. Quan believes in creating a culture of safety around sun exposure. Below he outlines a variety of precautions that individuals can take to limit their sun exposure and their risk of developing melanoma.

Sun tanning and sunburn

* Perform outdoor activities before 11 a.m. and after 3 p.m. to avoid high-risk hours.

* Tanned skin is damaged by the sun’s radiation. People of all ages should limit their exposure to the sun’s rays.

* Avoiding sun tanning will help skin appear younger longer.

* When your tan fades, your skin is trying to heal the damage caused by sun exposure. However, your skin never forgets what happens. Radiation damage is cumulative over the course of years.

* People at any age must avoid getting sunburned.

* Even one sunburn places a person at risk for skin cancer over his or her lifetime. One sees the effect of the sun exposure perhaps 30 years after the event.

Sunscreen

The higher the SPF the better, but sunscreen should have an SPF of at least 15.

The ABCDE’s of skin cancer

See your dermatologist for moles or skin changes that are:

A — Asymmetric.

B — Borders that are irregular or ragged rather than smooth.

C — Color variation in the same mole (a mole that is more than one color or if you notice that a mole has changed color, particularly if it has become black or dark).

D — Diameter of more than 6 millimeters, that is, a new or enlarging mole that is larger around than the eraser on a No. 2 pencil.

E — Elevation or heaping up of a pre-existing mole.

Skin cancer usually does not hurt. If you or someone you know notices a new skin lesion/mole or a change in something you have had before, see your physician or dermatologist right away.

Healthy eating

Certain fruits and vegetables contain immune-boosting ingredients and are rich with nutrients. For example, citrus fruits contain antioxidants to protect cells from changes that lead to skin cancer. Eating three or four avocados per week can help reduce skin damage. And vitamin A, found in carrots, has been linked to a reduced risk of sunburn, which can reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Important information

For patients undergoing cancer treatment, sun exposure may be unsafe. Intense sun exposure may further weaken the immune system in a person receiving chemotherapy. In addition, sun exposure while undergoing chemotherapy with fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil) may lead to more intense skin reactions and possible sunburn. Also, patients undergoing radiation therapy or just finishing treatment should also avoid the sun because skin exposed to radiation is very sensitive to the sun’s rays. Specific tips include:

* Be aware of the amount of time spent in the sun.

* Cover the head and ears with broad- brimmed hats.

* Wear tightly woven clothing made of light colored fabrics.

* Protect surgical scars from the sun.