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SUN SAFETY: Steps To Protect Skin

One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. But, you can take steps to prevent the disease.

Slathering on sunscreen isn’t a favorite for kids. But, Stephanie Cox says it’s a must. “I’m usually harping on people to use their sunscreen.”

The mother of three is even known to make sure the neighbors are covered head to toe. She says, “It’s very important to use sunscreen every day, whether it’s sunny or cloudy.”

And, she would know. Doctors diagnosed Cox with skin cancer when she was 26. She says, “It did turn out to be basal cell cancer, which is the most common type of skin cancer. And, the good thing about basal cell, if there’s a good thing about cancer, is that they’re easily curable. You remove them, and they don’t tend to come back. They don’t tend to spread.”

Cox was a third year medical student when she found the lesion near her hairline. Now, as a Family Practice Physician with The Iowa Clinic in Altoona, she makes sure her patients protect their skin. She says, “People don’t think of cancer as a disease of young people, but actually melanoma is the most common cancer in people 25 to 29 and the second most common cancer in adolescents 15 to young adults 29.”

Dr. Cox says people should stay out of the sun when the rays are the strongest, generally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wear sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat. And, of course slather on the sunscreen. It takes about an ounce, which is enough to fill a shot glass, to cover the exposed areas of the body. Dr. Cox says, “But, the biggest thing with sunscreen is not only applying it, but reapplying it. You’re supposed to reapply every 2 hours.”

You see lots of sunscreen options at the store. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends you look for three things on the label. Make sure the sunscreen has an SPF 30 or higher. It should say broad spectrum, so it protects from both UVA and UVB rays. And, the sunscreen should be water resistant.

Dr. Cox says you should also regularly check your skin and tell your doctor about any unusual spots. She says, “I’ve found skin cancers lifting up a shirt to listen to lungs, and I’m like, oh that doesn’t look good. It’s easy to look at your skin. It’s free. It’s not hard to do.”

She says people with a history of skin cancer should visit a dermatologist once a year.

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