Skin Cancer Screening Results Dramatize Sun Hazard, UCI Doctors Say


Some people in Orange County are apparently not listening: Too much sun is not good for you. Sun worshipers who frolic on the county's beaches without protection from the glare of cloudless skies may very likely get skin cancer.

Doctors at UC Irvine's Melanoma Center say they know they sound like a broken record, but they figure many outdoors types in this county are still not paying attention. And now they have more evidence of that.

During a skin cancer screening offered by the center during April and May, 1 of every 5 persons was diagnosed with skin cancer, while almost a third had precancerous lesions--numbers that alarmed some doctors and others at the center.

"We were really amazed at what we saw," said Leslie Ann Cyril, a spokesperson for the center. "Melanomas are being discovered in much younger people. That's what's so surprising."

Dr. Matthew Goodman, co-director of the melanoma center, cautioned that these results are not an accurate measure of skin cancer prevalence among the general population, nor was this meant as a scientific study. The 175 people who were screened, he said, probably likely suspected they might have a problem with skin abnormalities, including skin cancer. However, he said, results of this screening echo trends in national studies showing that skin cancer is on the rise, especially among people who live in sunny Southern California.

"It reiterates the need to use good judgment in our sun habits and the use of a sun screen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or greater," he said. "It shows that it could happen to you."

He also said it is an indication that there is still a great need for better educational programs warning about the dangers of the sun in this county of sunny beaches and endless summers. The melanoma center, which opened in 1986 at the UCI Clinical Cancer Center and is the only such center in Orange County, has started some educational programs for elementary school children, Cyril said.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 60,000 people will develop skin cancer during 1990, a 4% increase from last year. Of those, 27,600 will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious form, and the Cancer Society estimates that 6,300 people will die from melanoma this year.

That is why Matthews said he could not overstate the need for caution and prevention. The cancer center plans to offer another screening in the fall, he said, and he encouraged people in Orange County, especially those who engage in outdoor activity, to get themselves checked out.

"In my opinion it is related to the popularity of the masses going to the beach and other outdoor recreation as much as they have in the last few years, almost to a fanatic extreme," he said. "Well, don't say fanatic extreme, because I think outdoor recreation is great and good. But people should be prudent."

But Dore Gilbert, a Newport Beach dermatologist, said he thinks people living along the coast are well-informed about the dangers of overexposure. The higher incidence of skin cancer and melanoma cases, he said, could reflect an increased awareness among people who are seeking medical help earlier, before it is too late.

"In this area, in Orange County and also in Los Angeles, people are very aware of melanoma," he said. "If you get out to more rural areas, areas away from the coast, you are going to find more people who say, 'It can't happen to me.' "

Those, he said, are the people to worry about.

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