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Sun worship or idol worship?

Everybody is happier when the sun is out--and dark, gray days are depressing. But why do many of us seem to feel so much better when we expose our skin to the sun and bake it to a golden brown?

Is education the key to preventing melanoma and other skin cancers? Apparently not among the Virginia teenagers surveyed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Of the 81 percent who spent most weekends in the sun, only 9 percent regularly used a sunscreen--and they were more interested in preventing sunburn than cancer.

Even highly educated people don't seem to recognize the risk. A survey conducted from 1982 to 1988 of 1.2 million Americans showed melanomas to be more frequent among more highly educated, higher-income individuals. Such people are more likely to work indoors and only be exposed to the sun on weekends or on vacation, according to the survey. Such intermittent sun exposure is considered a major risk factor for melanoma.

Skin cancer is not the only risk, however. Cataracts--and now suppression of the immune system--also are linked to sun exposure. A news release from the Skin Cancer Foundation states, "A reduction in the body's defenses has been demonstrated in long-term studies of the effects of ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure in both animals and humans. Studies reveal that:

--Some people are more sensitive to the immunosuppressive effects of UVB and thus may be at greater risk for skin cancer;

--UVB may reduce the body's defenses against allergens (substances that trigger allergies);

--Even low doses of UVB decrease the immune response of mice to certain fungi, bacteria, and infectious viruses.

"What can be done to reduce the increasing risk we face from decreasing ozone levels (through which more ultraviolet light reaches the earth)? The best protection from UV radiation...is simply to limit one's exposure to it."

This is best done by avoiding the sun during the peak UVB hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to the Foundation. Also, one should wear protective clothing (including a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV-blocking lenses) and routinely apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
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Title Annotation:preventing skin cancer
Publication:Medical Update
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:361
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