Get A Grip: Mom was right about skin cancer dangers

I could never get out the door without the reminder, "Don't forget your sunscreen."

"Yes, Mom," I'd sigh, roll my eyes, get the sunscreen and head to the beach.

At the beach my best friend and I would roll out our towels.

She'd pull out a bottle of baby oil and slather it all over.

I'd try to hide my embarrassingly uncool sunscreen bottle as I applied the lotion knowing that if I came home with a sunburn I'd get in trouble and not be allowed to go to the beach the next day.

Meanwhile, I cursed my mean mother under my breath for making me endure such humiliation.

Ten years later my best friend found a discoloration on her arm.

Was it cancer? Tests were done.

She was lucky.

It wasn't skin cancer but the spot had to be removed and her doctor told her to watch out for any future spots.

Between finding the spot and finding out that it wasn't dangerous I worried for my friend and I thought back to those endless days on the beach, her with her baby oil and me with my hated sunscreen.

Meanwhile, I thanked my wise mother under my breath for making me protect my skin despite my eye rolling protests.

Science is on mom's side.

Studies for years have directly linked sun exposure to skin cancer and recent reports indicate that diagnoses of skin cancer is on the rise.

The American Cancer Society reports that more than 1 million cases of basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer will be diagnosed in 2002.

The most serious form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is expected to be diagnosed in 53,600 persons in 2002.

And those numbers are expected to keep going up.

Since 1981, the incidence of melanoma has increased an average of 7 percent per year to a rate of 14.3 per 100,000 in 1997.

In fact, melanoma is the most common cancer among people 25 to 29 years old.

Worse, Arizonans are twice as likely to get melanoma than people in other states.

Further, taking precautions with kids' skin is essential as most of the damage is done (although the disease may not surface until years later) by the time a person turns 18.

The good news is that because of the strong link between sun exposure and skin cancer, chances of contracting the deadly disease can be mitigated with some simple actions.

A statewide campaign called "Choose Your Cover" seeks to educate the public about the dangers of sun exposure.

The campaign recommends the following:

• Avoid outdoor activities between 10 a.m.

and 2 p.m.

when dangerous ultraviolet rays are strongest and most harmful.

• Seek shade.

(Cloud cover is no protection.)

• Wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses; keep these items readily available at home, bag, child's backpack and in the car.

• Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA/UVB protection; reapply often.

Even 'waterproof' sunscreen needs to be re-applied frequently.

The campaign also informs us that:

• The sun damages unprotected skin within 15 minutes.

• The sun's harmful ultraviolet rays penetrate may types of clothes and windows.

• UV rays damage the eyes, which may cause cataracts.

• It can take up to 12 hours for the skin to show the full effects of sun exposure.

More information is available at the campaign website www.cdc.gov/ChooseYourCover.

Looks like Mom was right.

Again.

Thanks Mom.

Note to self: Mom is always right.

Another note to self: Don't forget your sunscreen.