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Goal for Marylanders: A No-Burn Summer

PHOTO: Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It takes the lives of around 140 Marylanders each year. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Photo credit: Carl Washington, CDC.
PHOTO: Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It takes the lives of around 140 Marylanders each year. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Photo credit: Carl Washington, CDC.
May 22, 2014

BALTIMORE – The upcoming Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer.

But the sun safety campaign is already underway, with Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May.

Dr. Lawrence Mark, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at Indiana University, says prevention is key, along with early detection.

He cautions that people with fair skin and lighter colored hair and eyes are typically more prone to skin cancer, but that doesn't preclude it in those with darker complexions.

Mark cites several factors to consider when sizing up your overall risk.

"'I used a tanning bed multiple times,' he says. 'I got multiple blistering, peeling sunburns. I have a family history of first-degree relatives with melanoma.' You compound those all together, and you get higher and higher levels of risk."

About 1,300 Marylanders are diagnosed with melanoma each year.

Mark adds that the sun should not be considered an enemy, as it helps us produce vitamin D. But it doesn't take much time outdoors to get enough.

"Even if you are wearing sunscreen, you're actually not blocking 100 percent of the sun's rays when you do that,” he says. “And so, if someone is out with sunscreen on, they're still producing vitamin D nonetheless."

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Mark says while it accounts for less than 5 percent of all skin cancer cases, it also results in the most deaths.

His advice is to check carefully for changes in your skin.

"Look out for an ugly duckling,” he advises. “You may have some brown freckles, some rough spots here and there, but if you've got this thing that is out of the ordinary – it's not like any of the others, I mean, there's something odd – that should be a sign to say, 'I should have somebody evaluate that.'"

Mark says wear a hat and long sleeves outdoors, and use sunscreen with a skin protection factor or SPF of 30 or higher.

Also, avoid time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

State research shows that 68 percent of Marylanders follow those guidelines.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD