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Can I decrease my risk of melanoma?

By Anonymous June 19, 2010 - 12:55pm
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I am 24, live in the UK and have blonde hair, pale skin and blue eyes. I burn easily and tan lightly afterwards. No one in my family has ever had skin cancer. But I am really concerned about the damage that may have already been done.

I have, luckily, never tried to tan, nor have ever been on a tanning bed. However, simply playing outdoors as a child has caused burning. I did use suncream in the summer, but still, especially playing in the sea, burnt shoulders/scalp were fairly common. I have never needed special treatment or had a particularly bad burn, except once when I was 13- I applied suncream on my face but not completely up to the hairline, and developed a thin row of small blisters.

Please can you tell me if this sounds as though I have drastically increased my risk of melanoma; I also want to ask if there is anything I can do to decrease me risk. I eat very healthily, use sunscreen always and wear hats etc., and apply rosehip oil and vitamin E to areas that received the most sun exposure, however I'm not sure if this is enough. I feel really worried about having no control over the past damage, so I'm hoping you can put my mind at ease.

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Hi Anonymous,
Forgot to mention, you may want to be checked out by a dermatologist if you are concerned, and really want to put your mind at ease. The doctor will check your skin for any "bad" looking moles or signs of skin distress and give you even more ideas for how to safe guard yourself from melanoma. I also wanted to mention that I have blond hair/blue eyes and fair skin like you, and cannot put SPF directly on my face unless it is specifically developed for facial use or in a facial moisturizer--it will make me break out, in pimples, or in little blisters like you mentioned. But a doctor could really tell you for sure. Good luck! and Let us know what happens after your visit to the Derm.

July 2, 2010 - 11:43am

Hi Anonymous,
Has someone in your life been affected by melanoma?
I wrote an Advocacy Sheet recently about melanoma: http://www.empowher.com/melanoma/content/melanoma-advocacy-sheet
It may provide you general information about the disease, and the #7 point also may help in regard to prevention. There also is a link there for an article. Be well. And nice job being so proactive about your health!

July 2, 2010 - 10:39am
HERWriter Guide

Hi Anon - Yes, there are a lot of things you can do to decrease your risk of getting melanoma.

Most people are aware of the basic recommendations, which are provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation:

* Seek the shade, especially between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.
* Do not burn.
* Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
* Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
* Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours.
* Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
* Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
* Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
* See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

The Skin Cancer Foundation also provides year-round protection guidelines:

Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher whenever you spend time outdoors.

* This applies to all outdoor activities: athletics, shopping, picnicking, walking or jogging, gardening, even waiting for a bus.
* Choose a sunscreen with ingredients that block both UVB and UVA rays.
* Apply liberally and evenly to all exposed skin. The average adult in a bathing suit should use approximately one ounce of sunscreen per application. Not using enough will effectively reduce the product's SPF and the protection you get.
* Be sure to cover often-missed spots: lips, ears, around eyes, neck, scalp if hair is thinning, hands, and feet.
* Reapply at least every 2 hours, more often if some of the product may have been removed while swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.
* Choose a product that suits your skin and your activity. Sunscreens are available in lotion, gel, spray, cream, and stick forms. Some are labeled as water resistant, sweatproof, or especially for sports; as fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, or especially for sensitive skin or children.

Cover up.

* Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tightly woven fabrics and dark colors, such as deep blue and black, or bright colors, such as orange and red, offer more protection. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through too. Water makes fabrics more translucent, so do not rely on a wet T-shirt.
* A broad-brimmed hat goes a long way toward preventing skin cancer in often-exposed areas like the neck, ears, scalp, and face. Opt for a 3-4 inch brim that extends all around the hat. Baseball caps and visors shade the face but leave neck, lower face, and ears exposed.
* UV-blocking sunglasses with wraparound or large frames protect your eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes, common sites for skin cancer and sun-induced aging. Sunglasses also help reduce the risk of cataracts later in life.

Seek the shade.

* Be aware, however, that sunlight bouncing off reflective surfaces can reach you even beneath an umbrella or a tree.

Never seek a tan.

* There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is the skin's response to the sun's damaging rays.

Stay away from tanning parlors and artificial tanning devices.

* The UV radiation emitted by indoor tanning lamps is many times more intense than natural sunlight. Dangers include burns, premature aging of the skin, and the increased risk of skin cancer.

Protect your children and teach them sun safety at an early age.

* Healthy habits are best learned young. Because skin damage occurs with each unprotected exposure and accumulates over the course of a lifetime, sun safety for children should be a priority.

There's a broad range of additional information on the Foundation's site, and you can also sign up for their newsletter. This is an international organization, and key advisors include five physicians from the UK.
You can learn more here:

Congratulations for seeking this information at an early age and taking steps to protect yourself! Not only will you help reduce your risk for skin cancer you will also help slow down signs of aging, including wrinkles.

Take care,

June 19, 2010 - 1:36pm
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