Protecting Sun-sensitive Skin

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Protecting Sun-sensitive Skin

You already know the basics: To protect yourself from skin cancer, you should wear sunscreen and sport a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing when you're exposed to the sun.

When the UV index goes up, the more vigilant everyone has to be about protection, says Vijay Trisal, M.D., a surgical oncologist at City of Hope. And some patients may need to be particularly careful.

"The risk of developing skin cancer is 1,000 times higher in people taking immunosuppressant drugs," says Trisal. This includes people who have had organ or bone marrow transplants, or who take immunosuppressant medication for other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Drugs that sensitize tumors to radiation can make skin so sun-sensitive that people get blistering sunburns that can increase risk for skin cancer. 
Anyone taking these medications should avoid sun exposure.

Medications aside, a study in the December 2011 issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology found that cancer survivors previously diagnosed with melanoma are at the highest risk for cutaneous melanoma, one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer. Also at significantly higher risk are those previously diagnosed with Kaposi sarcoma, ocular melanoma, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma or leukemia. People with specific genetic mutations that can cause colon, breast or pancreatic cancers are at higher risk, too.

Although it's smart to protect your skin from too much sun, a little bit is healthy, Trisal adds. Not getting enough sun can cause a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D can help reduce the risk of some cancers and improve treatment outcomes. Trisal says about 10 minutes a week of unprotected time in the sun will give most people the exposure they need to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.

Amy Lynn Smith

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