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Sunscreen: slather it on

A shot-glass amount of sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin, including the ears, back of the neck and top of the feet, which are often forgotten."

In Australia, where skin cancer has long been epidemic, a "no hat, no play" policy as part of a broad-based emphasis on sun protection has made the country one of the first in the world in which skin cancer incidence is declining, Mr. Geller said.

And once children reach their teens, sun protection succumbs to burgeoning feelings of independence and invulnerability, as well as the popular belief among teenagers that they look more attractive when sporting a tan. Few seem worried about the chances of developing wrinkled, leathery, blotchy skin decades later as a result. Fewer still seem to know that they are risking cancer.

Yet childhood is the most critical time for avoiding sun-induced harm later in life. As much as 80 percent of a person's lifetime exposure to skin-damaging ultraviolet rays occurs by age 18. Multiple studies have shown that the more youngsters are exposed to the sun early in life, especially if they suffer serious sunburns, the greater the risk of later developing both superficial skin cancers and deadly melanomas.

Slather it.

Canadian researchers showed more than a decade ago that routine use of sunscreen by school-age children diminishes their risk of developing moles. The study, directed by Richard Gallagher of the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver, followed 458 elementary school children over three years. All were initially examined to count and measure how many moles they had.

The children were then divided into two groups. The parents of both groups were asked to keep detailed diaries of their children's sun exposure during the summer months. One group of parents was given educational materials and a supply of broad-spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30, and instructions to apply it whenever their children were likely to be in the sun for 30 minutes or longer. Each month, the amount of lotion remaining in the bottles was measured as a test of compliance.

The second group of parents received neither the educational materials nor the free sunscreen, though many parents in this group did apply sunscreen to their children on their own. At the end of the study, the number and size of moles on both groups of children was reassessed.

There was no difference in the amount of time the children spent in the sun or in how much clothing they wore. But the children whose parents got the educational information and sunscreen developed fewer moles than the children whose parents did not. And fewer moles, the researchers said, no doubt mean that these children will be less likely to develop melanomas when they grow up.

"This is a true prevention study," Dr. Gallagher said. "Parents need to know that if they intervene early, they can probably significantly reduce their child's risk of skin cancer in the future."


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