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07-21-2007, 09:30 PM
Chicagoland residents are ranked the least savvy about sun safety when compared to Americans living in 31 other U.S. cities, according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). The survey revealed that 40 percent of the Chicagoans surveyed believe that the city's climate, especially its short summers, limits the dangerous effects of sun exposure found in warmer climates. "Research shows that ultraviolet (UV) rays can pass through clouds, reflect off surfaces including water and snow, and UV exposure can be just as damaging during the winter months," advised Advocate South Suburban Hospital surgical oncologist Gianluca Lazzaro, M.D., PhD. "Area residents need to educate themselves about the risks associated with sun exposure and skin cancers, particularly melanoma, the most deadly form."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Melanoma accounts for approximately 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. Fair skin, light hair and eyes, a family history of skin cancer, and an abundance of moles are major risk factors. "While Caucasian people are at the greatest risk of developing skin cancer, no one is safe from it, regardless of skin type," explained Dr. Lazzaro.

Learning how to recognize melanoma is extremely important in successfully treating the disease. "Fortunately, with early detection melanoma is very treatable," said Dr. Lazzaro. "Surgical removal of melanoma at an early, non-invasive stage can produce very successful results. It is extremely important to recognize the signs of melanoma and consult your physician at the first sign of anything suspicious." The AAD recommends following the ABCD rule for identifying if a mole is potentially dangerous: asymmetry (one half does not match the other), border irregularity (the edges are blurred or uneven), color (the color is not solid and it appears to be brown, tan, or black, with hints of red, white, and blue), and diameter (most melanomas are larger than 6 mm in diameter). "Self-examination is necessary for identifying possible skin cancer dangers," explained Dr. Lazzaro. "The importance of early detection cannot be overemphasized. A clinical skin examination should be administered annually and if self-evaluation uncovers any skin abnormalities or changing moles, do not hesitate to contact your doctor."

While skin cancer is a serious threat, limiting sun exposure and protecting one's skin from sun damage can aide in prevention. Using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 on a regular basis is essential. Sunscreen should be used even on cloudy days, as UV rays can pass through clouds. "Sunscreen must be broad-spectrum, protecting from both UVA and UVB rays," said Dr. Lazzaro. "It also must be reapplied on a regular basis during sun exposure to provide consistent protection." The AAD recommends generously applying sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure and every two hours after swimming.

For those who are concerned that limited sun exposure will inhibit vitamin D production, which is aided by the sun, Dr. Lazzaro suggests safer methods for acquiring the nutrient. "Vitamin D is important for bone health, but I would never suggest sun exposure as a means of acquiring it," explained Dr. Lazzaro. "While sun exposure does aid in vitamin D production, the dangerous effects of the sun are far too great. People should get vitamin D through their diets by eating fortified milk and cereal, or some fish, including salmon, which are rich in vitamin D."

Using precaution with sun exposure is not only beneficial for one's health, but also for appearance. "Many people seek the sun for the cosmetic aspects of a tan," said Dr. Lazzaro. "However, aside from the many health dangers, sun exposure causes premature aging of the skin."

Advocate South Suburban Hospital is a 289-bed, acute care facility that serves Chicago's south suburbs. In addition to offering a wide array of hospital services, the not-for-profit facility provides free screenings and a variety of other outreach services throughout the community. As part of Advocate Health Care, Advocate South Suburban Hospital can be reached at http://www.advocatehealth.com/southsub (http://www.advocatehealth.com/southsub) or by calling 1-800-ADVOCATE (1-800-323-8622).

Advocate South Suburban Hospital (http://www.advocatehealth.com/southsub)