DHSS, DPH Urging Residents, Visitors to "Fight the Burn," Lower Their Risk For Skin Cancer

May 13, 2013 -- 2:56pm

The start of the summer season is fast approaching. That means soon, hundreds of thousands of people will be packing Delmarva's beaches to soak up the sun. With that will come plenty of sunburns. However, for younger people, the damage from those sunburns won't become evident for many years down the road.

During a press conference on the Boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, the Delaware Division of Health and Social Services and the Division of Public Health is urging residents and visitors alike to "Fight the Burn" by taking steps to reduce their chances of getting a sunburn, and ultimately developing skin cancer, the most common form of cancer. The DPH recently released its Delaware Cancer Incidence & Mortality Report for 2005 to 2009. The report showed that malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, rose by 64.3 percent during the period studied in the report compared to 10 years earlier, versus 20 percent in the U.S. overall. DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay says a possible factor for the increase could be that doctors are catching the cancer earlier. While most cases of malignant melanoma are caught in the local stage, the amount of cases that are diagnosed in the regional stage has more than doubled, from 4.9 percent between 1980 and 1984, to 10 percent between 2005 and 2009.

Health officials and dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least that provides protection from both ultraviolet-A and B rays. However, they encourage using sunscreens with SPFs between 30 and 50. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, but more frequently based on how much skin is exposed, and after swimming and sweating. UV rays are at their strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. People should stay out of direct sunlight during these hours. However, if you have to be out in the sun, wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats to protect your face, eyes, head, neck and ears. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, if possible.

One of the speakers at the press conference was Lilith Elmore, a senior at Sussex Tech High school who'll be graduating this spring. During her freshman year, her mother was diagnosed with melanoma. The cancer spread to her lungs, and she died in December 2011. Lilith says when her mother was diagnosed, she was only vaguely aware of what melanoma was, but it wasn't until after her mother died that she realized just how deadly melanoma was, and how much of a need for action there was. She recently taught a lesson about skin cancer to students and Shields Elementary School, and this summer, she plans to distribute literature at local salons that explain how to spot skin cancer. Under Delaware law, children under 18 are not allowed to use tanning salons without a parent's permission.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf also spoke at the press conference. When he was younger, he was a lifeguard in Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach. He lost two good friends, including the best man at his wedding, to melanoma. Schwartzkopf explained that back then, skin cancer was the last thing on anyone's mind, no one really knew what melanoma was, and there really wasn't much to prevent a sunburn. He explained that his wakeup call didn't come until 2011, when just before Christmas, he was diagnosed with the deadliest form of melanoma. Schwartzkopf was told that if the cancer got into his bloodstream, he'd have only two months to live. He says he spent the next several days worrying if he'd ever see his family again, or his grandkids that were to be born the following March. In January 2012, he had the surgery, and doctors were able to catch the cancer before it got into his bloodstream. Now, he goes to a dermatologist for a checkup every three months.

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