May is Skin Cancer Prevention Month. With over five million cases diagnosed in the United States each year, skin cancer is the most common cancer. As summer approaches, its time to up our sun protection for the entire family. According to scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital genetic evidence proves that sun damage not only contributes to melanoma in adults, but also affects children and adolescents. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer because it often spreads to other parts of the body. Melanoma gets its name from melanocytes—skin cells that produce a pigment called melanin, which gives skin its color.
“Don’t assume children cannot get skin cancer because of their age,” shares Dr. Alberto Pappo, director of the Solid Tumor Division at St. Jude’s. “Unlike other cancers, the conventional melanoma that we see mostly in adolescents behaves the same as it does in adults.” In fact, melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer in younger patients and affects mostly teenagers. “Children are not immune from extreme sun damage and parents should start sun protection early and make it a habit for life,” the good doctor adds. Keys to prevention include:
- Try to Avoid Going Outdoors When Sun’s Rays are the Strongest – Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., children should avoid direct UV rays as best possible.
- For Infants Younger than 6 Months of Age, No Sun at All is Best – They can be at the beach or outdoors this summer, but need to be covered up, have on a hat and cover up their neck and extremities. It is best to avoid sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old because they can get significantly more exposure to the chemicals in sunscreen compared to older patients.
- Use of Sunscreen to Prevent Sunburns – Sunscreen should be broad spectrum (effective against both UVA and UVB rays) and at least 15 SPF, although there is little evidence that anything above 50 SPF provides additional protective effects.
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