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Fighting Skin Cancer Takes More than a "Little Dab" of Protection

June 29, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Fourth of July weekend is a time for many Oregon families to enjoy the outdoors, but their doctors hope they're not in such a hurry to get outside that they forget to pack the sun hats and sunscreen. Oregon ranks number four among the states for new cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

Dr. Richard Leman, a family practice physician and medical epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Division, says - as with many other forms of cancer - early detection is critical.

"Typically, melanoma starts as a very shallow tumor that's just on the surface of the skin, and when you catch it there and get it off, typically it's completely curable. If it has a chance to grow down into the skin and maybe spread to other areas, that's when it's dangerous."

Leman says people who are light-skinned or who had a lot of sun exposure or sunburns growing up, are the most likely to have skin cancer problems later in life. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says more than 1200 people were diagnosed with melanoma last year in Oregon, and for about 120 Oregonians per year it is fatal.

Dr. Leman says sunscreen products are less greasy and more waterproof than in past decades, which might prompt people to use more. He says most people don't use enough, and kids are not the only ones who should really slather it on.

"Many people are of the 'a little dab'll do ya' school when it comes to sunscreen, and just putting a little dot of sunscreen is probably not enough. We actually think it's more like between a teaspoon and a tablespoon that needs to go just on the face."

Leman says there's a handy phrase to think about, to help minimize harmful sun exposure.

"I think an easy way to remember it is kinda, 'slip, slap and slop.' So, you can slip on an overshirt that covers your arms; you can slap on a hat that has a brim and protects your face and neck; and you can slop on that sunscreen of SPF 15 or more."

For children, the recommendation is sunscreen with an SPF factor of 30 or higher. 'SPF' stands for sun protection factor.

An Oregon skin cancer fact sheet is online at www.epa.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR