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Avoid skin cancer; be skin smart

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Skin Cancer Awareness Fair will be hosted by the Buckley Health and Wellness Center 11 a.m. July 15 at The Exchange on base.

Living in the Mile High City is not without risks. The Ultraviolet Index scale rates the level of UV rays penetrating the Earth's atmosphere using numbers 0-11+. From July 8-12, Denver reached a UV level of more than 11, which is categorized as extreme.

The sun is the main culprit in producing UV radiation, but tanning lamps and booths are also sources of UV radiation. When the epidermis is exposed to too many UV rays, it can cause damage to skin cells. These mutated cells can grow and spread throughout the body using the skin as a highway until the cells penetrate the blood stream or lymph nodes. Once in the blood or lymph nodes, the cells can cause tumors to grow wherever the damaged cells have landed.

"Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States," said Alan Muriera, HAWC health promotion manager and health educator. "More than 3.5 million skin cancer (types) in more than 2 million people, are diagnosed annually."

There are two types of skin cancer. Melanoma, the deadliest and rarest form, is caused by damaged melanocytes, or the cells that produce skin color. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common, less deadly and starts in the top, or squamous, or base, basal, skin cells.

There are several signs and symptoms used to identify a mole that is potentially hiding cancer. An easy way to remember what to look for when trying to identify skin cancer is the A, B, C, D and E of skin cancer. The A stands for asymmetrical shape. Melanoma lesions are typically irregular or not symmetrical in shape. The B is for border. Usually, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma usually has irregular borders that are difficult to define. C and D are for color and diameter. The presence of more than one color - like blue, black, brown or gray - or the uneven distribution of color can be a warning sign. The diameter should be no greater than 6 millimeters, about the size of a pencil eraser. E is the evolution of a mole. If a mole changes size, shape or color it needs to be looked at by a dermatologist.

"If a lesion is not healing, if you have a mole that just keeps opening up, scabbing or bleeding, that is a concern," said Renae Tabin, 460th Medical Group physician assistant. "Looking at a bit of personal history, is the patient fair skinned? Where did they grow up? How many sunburns have they had in their lives of significance? That all plays a factor in that person's risk."

When out running the trail or enjoying a day off with family, the thought of skin cancer may not be at the top of the list. Take the time to use sunscreen with a protection level of at least 30SPF to help protect skin and apply every two hours. Try to keep areas of your body covered, and seek shade during the day, especially when the sun is at the highest point in the sky. Awareness can minimize the risk of skin cancer and keep members of Team Buckley mission ready.

Information about this article was retrieved from the Melanoma Research Foundation, The American Cancer Society and WebMD websites.

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