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By Paul Ossi

M.D. on 11/06/2017

Protecting Skin from Cancer-Causing Ultraviolet Rays Year Round

Although we may get a break from the Florida heat and humidity over the winter months, the sun’s UV rays are still strong. A new study revealing that sun exposure may activate genetic mutations that cause dangerous melanoma to grow, reminds us that we should be protecting our skin year round.

Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin, a pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes their color. Researchers at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, NY, discovered when melanocyte stem cells exceed a specific level of genetic mutations, they can be activated by sun exposure, causing a tumor to grow.

During the study, researchers used two sets of mice with genetically engineered melanocyte stem cell mutations. One set had Hgma2, a gene that is expressed in the skin when exposed to UV radiation, while the Hgma2 gene was deleted in the second set.

Both sets of mice were then exposed to enough radiation to trigger a “tanning response.”

During the study, mice who had stem cell mutations and the Hgma2 gene developed melanomas, but the set of mice in which the Hgma2 gene had been eliminated remained melanoma-free.

While this study brings us one step closer to understanding the link between melanoma and ultraviolet radiation from the sun, additional studies are needed to fully determine the role of Hgma2 in skin cancer.

Meanwhile, I encourage all adults and children to be diligent about protecting their skin from dangerous ultraviolet rays year round by:

  • Wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 when outdoors, and reapplying every 2 hours
  • Seeking shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter
  • Opting for long sleeves and sun protective clothing
  • Donning a wide brim hat when outdoors
  • Choosing wrap-around sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays
  • Avoiding all types of indoor tanning

In addition to sun protection, all individuals (even babies) should have a yearly professional skin examination and perform a monthly skin self-exam to identify any new or suspicious lesions. Be sure to learn the ABCDEs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry – one half of a mole is different from the other half
  • Border – irregular borders on skin lesion
  • Color – multiple shades or colors within a single mole
  • Diameter – look for growths larger than a pencil eraser
  • Evolving – identify changes in a single mole or one that looks different from others

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, slightly more than 23 of every 100 thousand Floridians developed melanoma. I urge you to protect your skin and your health by practicing sun safety year round.

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