The ozone-melanoma connection

The ozone-melanoma connection – includes related article on recognizing melanoma

With the arrival of spring come more intense sunrays and increased concerns about sun exposure and skin cancer, particularly the potentially lethal form known as malignant melanoma. Death from this type of cancer is increasing faster than any other form of cancer, especially among young adults. As the ozone layer depletes, people are urged to protect themselves – and particularly children – from the sun’s rays. The thinning of the ozone layer, although perhaps not quite as imminent, drastic or dangerous as some reports suggest, means that human skin is becoming more exposed to its number one enemy: the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The atmospheric ozone layer around the earth normally blocks out the sun’s shortwave UVB rays and some of the longer wave UVA radiation. Although it was formerly believed that only the short UVB (burning) rays cause skin cancer, it’s now clear that the longer wave UVA radiation can also do so. Young children intermittently exposed to the sun are at special risk of developing skin cancer. Melanoma is often linked to intense sun-exposure while young and even one bad sunburn during childhood can double the chances of developing this skin cancer later in life. The message is loud and clear: protect children from sunburn and watch for the warning signs of melanoma and other skin cancers. Malignant melanoma arises from melanocytes (pigment-forming cells) in the skin. While some melanomas arise de noxo (anew) anywhere in the body, including the mouth, eyes and ears, many develop from pre-existing moles or other brown skin lesions (patches). People with many moles or freckles are at above-usual risk for melanoma and should take special precautions against sun-exposure, also being sure to get regular skin checks.

Those at above-average risk-from melanoma:

* anyone who sunburns easily and tans poorly;

* people badly sunburned in childhood;

* people with many moles – the more moles, die greater the risks;

* easy frecklers;

* redheads, blonde, blue-eyed and fair-complexioned people;

* those who’ve had melanoma or other types of skin cancer or have relatives who’ve had melanoma;

* people with “peculiar-looking” moles – dysplastic nevi (precursor moles) – likely to become cancerous.

Protect yourself and your children from UV exposure

* Don’t expose children under 12 months old to sunlight; cover infants’ heads, protect under a sun umbrella.

* Wear light, long-sleeved shirts and pants if playing or working in strong sunlight. (Since even sheer clothes allow some UV rays through, apply sunscreen underneath.)

* Get children into good sun protection habits: teach them regular sunscreen application while outdoors.

* Watch most carefully over fair-skinned, red-headed and freckly youngsters.

* Send kids off to camp or for summer weekends with the right sunscreen in a bag! Stress the need to apply properly and frequently.

Note that baby oil and cocoa butter- are not sunscreens – the oils only intensify the effects of sunlight and bum skin faster.

* Use sunscreens wisely: choose products with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 15-20 for minimal protection; most experts now recommend SPF 20-30 for good protection or an opaque sunblock for the most exposed parts (e.g., nose, ear tips, shoulders).

* Apply sunscreen 40-60 minutes before going outside so that it penetrates the skin thoroughly for better protection.

* Pay special attention to sun-exposed areas – ears, face, scalp, neck, backs of legs, shoulders, back.

* Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks out the sun’s shorter (UVB) and some of the longer (UVA) rays – e.g., products containing oxybenzones, dibenzoyl methane or benzophenones (check the labels).

* Try different products for different occasions/activities: use a higher SPF for vigorous outdoor exertions (e.g., golfing, running), lower ones for milder exertion (e.g., walking).

* Note that PABA – a widely-used sunscreen – does not filter out the UVA rays, only the shorter UVB radiation.

* Use sunscreens that are completely opaque for extra protection – such as those containing titanium oxide – which now come in many attractive shades and totally block the sun’s rays.

* If swimming or perspiring profusely, reapply (waterproof) sunscreen after drying off or if still sweating.

* Keep sun exposure down – especially from noon to 2 p.m. (when sunlight is most intense).

* Beware of cool, cloudy or overcast days when 70-80 per cent of the sun’s UV rays still get through.

* Remember that sitting in the shade or swimming underwater does not guarantee protection (UV rays go through water).

* Note that UV light is reflected-from sand, concrete, snow or water. (Young skiers and water-lovers often sustain serious sunburns from reflected sunlight.)

* Also note that UV light may cause cataracts: protect the eyes with UV-filtering sunglasses.

* Be especially vigilant at high altitudes and near the equator where solar radiation is most intense.

* Become a mole-watcher – examine the entire skin regularly for any changes in moles, freckles or brown discolourations.

* Self examination and frequent mole checks are a wise precaution. Melanomas often occur on the back, especially in men, and the backs of legs in women. Check the back, calves of legs, upper arms, ears and the back of the neck where skin cancers commonly form. Look for any scaliness, changes in the colour or shape of moles, any persistent itching or oozing. Remember that prompt surgical excision of melanoma offers an excellent chance of cure. If worried or in doubt see a dermatologist.

* Get skin check-ups by a dermatologist if there is a personal or family history of melanoma or if in a known high-risk bracket.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Strategic Inc. Communications Ltd.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group