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updated 5/31/2006 10:05:17 AM ET 2006-05-31T14:05:17

It’s the fastest growing and most common form of cancer in the U.S. One in five Americans will develop it during his or her lifetime. And one person dies from a form of it almost every hour. What is it? Skin cancer. Dr. Jeanine Downie, a board certified dermatologist, was invited to appear on “Today” to show what skin cancer looks like, and how to prevent it. Here's more information on the disease:


  • Sunlight (UV radiation): Too much exposure to UV radiation is a risk factor for melanoma. The main source of such radiation is sunlight. Tanning lamps and booths are another source.
  • Moles: A mole (nevus) is a benign (not cancerous) skin tumor. Certain types of moles increase a person's chance of getting melanoma. People with lots of moles, and those who have some large moles, have an increased risk for melanoma.
  • Fair skin: People with fair skin, freckling, or red or blond hair have a higher risk of melanoma.
  • Family history: Around 10 percent of people with melanoma have a close relative (mother father, brother, sister, child) with the disease. This could be because the family tends to spend more time in the sun or because the members have fair skin, or both.
  • Immune suppression: People who have been treated with medicines that suppress the immune system, such as transplant patients, have an increased risk of developing melanoma.
  • Age: Melanoma is more likely to happen to older people. But it is one of the few cancers that is also found in younger people.
  • Gender: Men have a higher rate of this cancer than women.
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP): This is a rare, inherited condition. People with XP are less able to repair damage caused by sunlight and are thus at greater risk of melanoma.
  • Past history of melanoma: A person who has already had melanoma has a higher risk of getting another melanoma.

The best way to lower the risk of melanoma is to avoid too much exposure to the sun and other sources of UV light. The ideas below can help you prevent skin cancer:

  • Avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long, especially in the middle of the day when UV light is most intense.
  • Protect your skin with clothing, including a shirt with long sleeves and a hat with a broad brim.
  • Use sunscreen and lip balm. They should have an SPF factor of 15 or more. Apply the sunscreen correctly. Many people do not use enough — a palmful is best. Put it on about 20 to 30 minutes before you go outside so your skin can absorb it. And you should put it on again every two hours. Use it even on hazy days or days with light or broken cloud cover. Don't stay out in the sun longer just because you're using sunscreen. That defeats the purpose.
  • Wear sunglasses. Wrap-around sunglasses with at least 99 percent UV absorption give the best protection.
  • Avoid other sources of UV light such as tanning beds and sun lamps.
  • Be especially careful about sun protection for children. Teach your children to protect themselves from the sun as they get older. People who suffer severe, blistering sunburns, particularly in childhood or teenage years, are at increased risk of melanoma.
  • Check suspicious moles with your doctor and have them removed if needed.


  • Ocean Potion Sunblock
  • M.D. Forte Environmental Protection Cream
  • L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Lotion
  • Bobbie Brown Medium to Dark Self-Tanner
  • Rit Sun Guard
  • Coolibar UV-Protective Clothing (Coolibar.com)

Information provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society. To learn more aboaut the foundation, visit their Web site at http://www.skincancer.org/


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