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May 14, 2008 > Protect Your Skin Now to Enjoy Fewer Worries in the Future

Protect Your Skin Now to Enjoy Fewer Worries in the Future

Dermatologist Talks Skin Protection, Provides Free Skin Cancer Screening

When it comes to your skin, the actions you take today can help maintain this part of your body's overall health and appearance well into the future.
The skin is the body's largest organ. It performs a host of essential functions, including covering our internal organs and protecting them from injury. The skin also serves as our first defense against germs, such as bacteria, providing a physical barrier.
Additionally, our skin, which accounts for about seven percent of the total body weight in the average adult, prevents the loss of too much water and other fluids. It also regulates body temperature and helps the body rid itself of excess water and salts, while certain cells in the skin communicate with the brain and allow for temperature, touch, and pain sensations, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
For all the amazing functions the skin provides, it goes without saying that it's a good idea to get the facts about skin protection.
Next Tuesday, May 20, Dr. Sunil S. Dhawan, a Washington Hospital Medical Staff dermatologist, will present a free seminar about how to keep the skin healthy and prevent skin cancer, as well as when to visit a dermatologist.
Dr. Dhawan also will perform a free skin cancer screening, which he emphasizes will focus solely on signs of skin cancer and not other skin abnormalities, given time constraints.
During his seminar, Dr. Dhawan will talk about the risk for skin cancer, how excessive sun exposure relates to both melanoma and basal/squamous cell carcinomas and how to protect the skin.
A majority of skin cancers are classified as non-melanoma and usually occur in either basal cells or squamous cells, which are found at the base of the outer layer of the skin or cover the internal and external surfaces of the body, the ACS explains.
These types of skin cancers develop in areas of the body that receive regular sun exposure, such as the face, ear, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands. Depending on the type, they can be fast or slow growing, but they rarely spread to other parts of the body - unlike melanoma, which is characterized by its accelerated growth and ability to metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body.
Dr. Dhawan notes that melanoma is typically linked to cases of acute sun exposure, such as a bad sunburn. He estimates that one in 80 people will get a melanoma, while basal cell carcinoma affects between five and six million people.
Notably, he says, younger and younger patients are being diagnosed with both types of skin cancer. In his practice, Dr. Dhawan says he has treated a patient as young as 25 with basal cell carcinoma and 28 with a melanoma.
If left untreated, skin cancer - especially melanoma - can be deadly. But caught early enough, even melanoma is highly curable if treated properly in early stages.
Signs to watch out for that indicate a trip to the dermatologist is needed, according to Dhawan, include any changes in an existing mole or an itching, burning or bleeding that occurs in existing or new mole located in places like the back, lower legs or other sun exposed areas.
If you have had some type of skin cancer in the past, have fair skin or a family history of skin cancer, Dr. Dhawan recommends talking to a dermatologist about how often you should have your skin examined.
"Generally, it's an older population that attends the seminar and screening," Dr. Dhawan says. "At the same time, this information is very important for younger people whose behavior can be changed now to help reduce the effects of sun damage in the future."
Fortunately skin cancer is highly preventable, given people take the right steps to protect themselves. However Dr. Dhawan points out that when it comes to excessive sun exposure and its correlation to skin damage, "People just still aren't getting the concept," he says.
The good news is that even making small changes in behavior can go a long ways in preventing sun damage down the road. A few of the actions Dr. Dhawan will discuss next Tuesday include:
* Aiming for sun exposure when the sun is less intense (usually before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m.)
* Reapply sunblock with a skin protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher every two hours
* Wear a hat that protects the face and neck
* Wear sun protective clothing when possible
A definite no-no when it comes to skin health is tanning beds, according to Dr. Dhawan.
"I would definitely avoid tanning booths or parlors," he says. "Getting a 'base' tan doesn't help and can makes things worse. Many of my patients have used tanning beds. Tanning beds, a lot of sunburns and routine sun exposure with lack of sunscreen are all correlated to problems later."
The reasons to protect the skin, Dr. Dhawan says are manifold. In addition to preventing skin cancer, protecting the skin early and regularly can help prevent excessive wrinkles, brown spots, thinning of the skin and other undesirable effects of over-exposure to the sun.
"The overall message is by minimizing sun exposure, and increasing your level of sun protection, you'll reduce the risk of problems later on," he says.
Protect your skin
Join Dr. Dhawan for his Skin Cancer Prevention seminar and screening on Tuesday, May 20, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms B & C located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.
To see a list of free upcoming Washington Hospital community seminars, visit, click on "The Community," select "Community Seminars & Health Classes" and choose "Calendar of Seminars" from the drop-down menu.
To search for a dermatologist by name, city and languages spoken, visit and click on "Find a Physician."
Health information only a channel away
If you've missed a class you really wanted to attend, don't despair! Seminars air regularly on InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel on Comcast Channel 78. The program schedule is printed weekly in this section.

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