Experts: Practice Sun Safety to Avoid Cancer Risk

Sunday, May 31, 2009  |  Updated 12:48 PM EDT
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(iVillage Total Health) - Dermatologists, cancer experts and public health officials are urging Americans to practice sun safety during the upcoming summer months of sunshine and outdoor activities. New studies and precautions have been announced in observance of Sun Safety Week, from June 3-9.

Among the safety precautions recommended by the American Cancer Society (ACS): wearing hats, long sleeves and pants, using sunscreen and avoiding the outdoors during hours when the sun is most intense (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

New research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that drinking green tea may help sun worshippers avoid skin cancer. A study published in the May issue of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that plant chemicals in green tea may aid in inhibiting tumor growth.

"Green tea prevents UV radiation induced suppression of the immune system, which has been considered a risk factor for the development of skin cancer," Santosh Katiyar, the lead Alabama researcher, said in a press release.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Despite warnings about the harmful effects of the sun, more than 1 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer occur each year, according to the ACS. The deadliest form of skin cancer - melanoma - is strongly associated with excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), which can come from sunlight or tanning booths and beds. The ACS estimates that 59,940 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed and more than 8,000 people will die from melanoma in 2007.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the ACS's deputy chief medical officer, said a new report on adolescent and teen sunburns showed that much work is still needed to prevent early sun exposure.

"Despite evidence that excessive sun exposure in childhood contributes to the risk of skin cancers later in life, our study reveals that sunburns remain common among adolescents," Lichtenfeld said in a radio interview. "Further, most teens still view a tan as not only a good look, but also a sign of good health."

To further the message of staying safe in the sun, the ACS is again promoting its Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign. It reminds people to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on hat when going outdoors. Using sunglasses to protect the eyes is also recommended.

People who want to minimize their risk of skin cancer can do so by following these skin care recommendations:

  • Beware of sores that are not healing. People may think a sore or pimple is persistent, but it may be more serious and possibly an early form of skin cancer.

  • Monitor your moles. Melanoma usually develops in a pre-existing mole. Closely monitoring moles for changes in size, shape, color and number can help. If any change is noted, a physician should be consulted immediately.

  • Be cautious of bleeding and scabbing. Any area of the skin that is bleeding, scabbing or releasing fluids is extremely dangerous and a physician should be consulted immediately.

  • Monitor exposure to the sun. The more sun exposure, the greater risk of skin cancer. People who work outside or individuals who live in tropical climates must understand they are not immune to the sun and that the application of sunscreen is vital throughout the year. The sun is just as damaging to the skin during the winter months as it is in the summer months.

  • Know your genes. If there is a history of skin cancer in your family and you have light hair and light eyes, you are at a greater risk for skin cancer and should always protect yourself with sunscreen.

Copyright 2007 iVillage Total Health.

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