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Skin cancer is a major public health problem in North America

Skin cancer is a major public health problem in North America according to the U.S. surgeon general. Each year, close to 5 million people receive treatment for skin cancer. Even though sunbathing and outdoor activities in the sun can contribute to people getting skin cancer, one of the main contributors of this deadly disease is indoor tanning.

Sharon Doyle puts sunscreen on the face of 9-year-old Savannah Stidham as they visit the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Skin cancer is a major health problem in North America.

The National Cancer Institute warns that melanoma is the most common form of cancer for adults between ages 25 to 29. In addition, this deadly form of cancer is also the second most common form of cancer for young adults ages 15 to 29.

Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Services reports that deadly melanoma cases increased more than 200 percent from 1973 to 2011.

U.S. Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak advises the following, "We have to change the social norms about tanning. Tanned skin is damaged skin, and we need to shatter the myth that tanned skin is a sign of health."

The surgeon general requests that state and local official need to do more to help citizens prevent getting skin cancer. He suggests they provide more shaded areas at parks and sporting events.

In addition, children at schools should be encouraged to apply sunscreen and wear hats when engaged in outdoor activities, preferably when the sun is on its descent. The elimination of indoor tanning beds at universities and colleges campus is necessary, as well. “We need more states and institutions on board with these policies that discourage or restrict indoor tanning by our youth,’ according to Dr. Lushniak.

How to prevent skin cancer

Most melanomas are preventable. Limiting and reducing exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, including artificial light from tanning beds and sunlight is the first step in preventing this deadly disease. The second step is to identify and diagnose melanoma as early as possible.

Over 63,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year; sadly, around 9,000 people die from this form of skin cancer each year. Unlike some forms of cancers, skin cancer and melanoma can be prevented if proper steps are taken.

Sunscreen is one form of prevention; however, just because an individual applies sunscreen does not mean he or she should stay in the sunlight for long periods. Nonetheless, one once of sunscreen capable of providing a broad stream of protection from ultra-violet UVA (long-wave) and ultraviolet UVB (shortwave) rays, as well as a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 should be applied to all exposed skin 15 minutes prior to being exposed to the sun. Sunscreen should also be applied during cloudy days, as well. Reapply the sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

Avoid tanning beds and intentionally tanning. Contrary to some opinions, current research signifies tanning is dangerous. Exposure to tanning beds before the age of 30 increases the risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent according to the Melanoma Research Foundation. Whenever possible, wear protective clothing, which includes pants, wide brim hat, long-sleeve shirts, and sunglasses.

Avoid being sunburned.

Get your vitamin D from a healthy diet, such as tuna, salmon, orange juice, cheese, and cereals, to name a few. If necessary, take a vitamin supplement recommended by a physician.

The rays of the sun are strongest between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, so when possible, seek shade during this period.

Check your skin each month; early detection of skin cancer and melanoma increases your chance of saving your life. Pay attention to spots or moles on your body that change color, shape, or size. If you discover or suspect you have developed skin cancer of melanoma contact a dermatologist, immediately.

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