Health officials warn over melanoma as summer heats up: How to prevent deadly skin cancer

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New York health officials issued warnings on melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, over social media Wednesday as residents take to the outdoors under the summer sun.

“Skin cancer most often develops on skin exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation (rays), but skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body,” according to the New York Department of Health. Three kinds of skin cancer include basal, squamous and melanoma, the last of which is deemed most dangerous due to its potential to spread elsewhere in the body.

Limiting exposure to UV rays from the sun, sunlamps and tanning beds can help prevent many skin cancers, health officials say, noting that UV exposure spurs up to 90% of melanomas. Other preventive steps include wearing protective clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” with at least SPF 15, avoiding the sun at peak hours and following preventive steps on cloudy days too.

The deadly skin cancer claims almost 500 New Yorkers each year, with over 4,000 residents diagnosed with melanoma annually, per figures released in 2019. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), melanoma starts in cells that produce skin pigmentation, or melanocytes.

“When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more pigment and cause the skin to darken,” the agency explains, later adding, “Over time, UV damage adds up, leading to changes in skin texture, premature skin aging, and sometimes skin cancer. UV rays also have been linked to eye conditions such as cataracts.”

While anyone is at risk of skin cancer, some factors increase the odds, like those with a lighter natural skin color, skin that burns or reddens easily, people with blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, certain types and a large number of moles, family history of skin cancer, personal history of skin cancer and older age, according to the CDC.

“The risk of melanoma increases as people age, but it’s also found in younger people. In fact, it is one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30 (especially younger women),” per the NYDOH.

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