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Many New Englanders at increased risk for deadly skin cancer, Brigham and Women’s doctor warns

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Fun in the sun is a summer staple in New England. But it also comes with risks that can endanger your health years down the road.“Melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer,” said Dr. Jennifer Lin, director of the Melanoma Risk and Prevention Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Deadly, she said, because that blemish can become insidious, traveling inside your body and ultimately to your lungs, brain and other organs. Lin said New Englanders have an added risk factor for skin cancer since 20% of people in the Greater Boston area have at least some Irish heritage. “Anybody who has fair skin that burns easily, light-colored eyes, light-colored hair, is an increased risk of developing melanoma,” she explained. But Lin added there’s another important thing to know about this form of skin cancer: When caught early, it’s curable. And a little prevention can go a long way. “We’re not telling people to be in caves,” she said. “We’re telling people to be really smart when they’re in the sun.”That means avoiding direct exposure when the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you are at the beach during prime times, make sure you’re under an umbrella. Even in the shade, make sure you’re wearing sunscreen because the rays can reflect off the sand and water. One more thing to keep in mind: The minute you step into the sun, your sunscreen is being used, so reapplying every two hours is critical.“Sunscreen is not impermeable,” Lin said. “It’s not perfect. It wears off.”She also strongly recommends doing a self-check once a month, looking at yourself from head to toe in front of a mirror and checking for any new spots or changes in existing blemishes. You can ask a partner to check your back or use a small mirror. There’s also been a push to train hairstylists and masseuses to pick up on signs of melanoma in their clients. “We shouldn’t be offended if someone comes us to use and says, ‘Hey, have you ever had that checked before?’” said Lin. “That person’s looking out for you.”

Fun in the sun is a summer staple in New England. But it also comes with risks that can endanger your health years down the road.

“Melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer,” said Dr. Jennifer Lin, director of the Melanoma Risk and Prevention Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Deadly, she said, because that blemish can become insidious, traveling inside your body and ultimately to your lungs, brain and other organs.

Lin said New Englanders have an added risk factor for skin cancer since 20% of people in the Greater Boston area have at least some Irish heritage.

“Anybody who has fair skin that burns easily, light-colored eyes, light-colored hair, is an increased risk of developing melanoma,” she explained.

But Lin added there’s another important thing to know about this form of skin cancer: When caught early, it’s curable. And a little prevention can go a long way.

“We’re not telling people to be in caves,” she said. “We’re telling people to be really smart when they’re in the sun.”

That means avoiding direct exposure when the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you are at the beach during prime times, make sure you’re under an umbrella. Even in the shade, make sure you’re wearing sunscreen because the rays can reflect off the sand and water.

One more thing to keep in mind: The minute you step into the sun, your sunscreen is being used, so reapplying every two hours is critical.

“Sunscreen is not impermeable,” Lin said. “It’s not perfect. It wears off.”

She also strongly recommends doing a self-check once a month, looking at yourself from head to toe in front of a mirror and checking for any new spots or changes in existing blemishes. You can ask a partner to check your back or use a small mirror.

There’s also been a push to train hairstylists and masseuses to pick up on signs of melanoma in their clients.

“We shouldn’t be offended if someone comes us to use and says, ‘Hey, have you ever had that checked before?’” said Lin. “That person’s looking out for you.”



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