Being sun safe all year long reduces your risk of melanoma

May is Melanoma Awareness Month. The Melanoma Network of Canada (MNC) is committed to increasing awareness about the importance of prevention and early detection for this deadliest form of skin cancer. In Canada, melanoma is the seventh most commonly diagnosed cancer with over 6,800 cases this year. It is one of the most common cancers in youth ages 15 to 29 and is the most aggressive skin cancer if not caught early. For more information, visit www.melanomanetwork.ca.

Many high-profile people have been treated for melanoma including former US President Jimmy Carter, Republican Senator John McCain and Hall of Fame Quarterback Troy Aikman. Legendary Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley, Crazy Canuck, alpine ski racer Dave Murray and most recently CBC’s The Vinyl CafĂ©, Stuart McLean lost their battles with melanoma.

“When in doubt, take it out. If you have a mole that is troubling and you are not sure, ask for a biopsy,” says Annette Cyr, Founder and Chair of the Board of the Melanoma Network of Canada. “Over half of initial melanoma is caught by the patient or by a family member. Make sure to check yourself monthly and take a photo on your phone to track any changes in your mole. Melanoma is very treatable if caught early.”

Check your skin regularly as melanoma can affect any race, gender or age group. You are at a higher risk of developing melanoma if you have one or more of the following characteristics: prolonged exposure to UV radiation including outdoor sun and artificial UV radiation (tanning beds, sun lamps); severe blistering, sunburns before the age of 20; a family history of melanoma; more than 50 moles on your body; moles with unusual shape or colour; skin that tends to burn; fair or freckled skin; red or blonde hair and blue eyes; or a weakened immune system.

“Melanoma is on the rise in Canada,” states Dr. Paul Cohen, Dermatologist and Director, Rosedale Dermatology Centre in Toronto. “Because our winters are so long, many people are spending more time outside when the weather gets nicer and not applying sunscreen often enough. Whatever your skin type or skin sensitivity, there is no excuse to not be able to find a sun screen that suits you.”

Dr. Cohen offers the following sun safety tips: seek the shade between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun is strongest; avoid tanning and UV tanning booths; cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses; use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) water resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day all year long; apply a thick layer of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating; and examine your skin head-to-toe every month and let your doctor know if you notice any change in an existing mole or discover a new one that looks suspicious.

Wear a black ribbon throughout May to show your support for melanoma awareness and prevention.

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