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By Greg Clark
Arizona Summer Wildcat
July 30, 1997

Sunny days have cancerous effects

Though it may seem oppressive in the middle of a blazing summer, many students consider the perpetual Arizona sunshine a blessing.

But the sunshine is not always benign.

Sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer, which is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States, said Laurie Young, director of communication and outreach at the Arizona Cancer Center.

In 1995, more than 9,300 people died of the three most common forms of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates a million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year.

Young said college students should take note because these skin cancers do occur in young adults and can be prevented by taking precautions against sun exposure.

Malignant melanoma, which causes six out of seven skin cancer deaths, is now the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women ages 24-29, Young said, citing statistics from the American Academy of Dermatology.

In women ages 30-34, melanoma is second only to breast cancer, she said.

The sun in southeastern Arizona can be particularly dangerous because the mild winter climate and summer heat tempt people to bask in the sun.

"Here in Tucson, there are more sunny days than most other cities in the country, so the cumulative ultraviolet radiation exposure is more than it would be almost anywhere else," Young said.

Due to the increase in ultraviolet radiation exposure, Young said, the incidence of skin cancer in southeastern Arizona is higher than it is in the rest of the country.

Non-melanoma skin cancers occur four to seven times more often, and cases of malignant melanoma are twice as frequent here than in the rest of the United States., according to Arizona Cancer Center statistics.

Young said students can protect themselves from the sun and reduce the risk of skin cancer by taking three simple steps.

  1. Avoid the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun's rays are most intense

  2. Cover up. Wear long-sleeved shirts and wear a hat with a wide brim that shades not only the face, but also the ears and neck

  3. Extend protection by using sunscreen with an S.P.F. of 15 or greater on a daily basis, year-round.

Students who want more information about skin safety and cancer awareness information are encouraged to contact the Arizona Cancer Center's education office at (520) 626-7935.

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