El Paso News

Special Report: Skin Deep

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) - In a group of 10 teenagers, odds are that one of them will get Melanoma -- the deadliest skin cancer of all.

40 to 60 percent of sun exposure, the kind that changes the pigment of your skin, happens before you hit age of 20.

That is why the month of May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s a statistic that is far too familiar for one El Pasoan.

“I will never forget. We were in the room and he said you have melanoma. The results came back and you have melanoma,” said Sergio Estrada, a skin cancer survivor.

"The fear was, ‘Am I going to die?' I’m so young and I have a little girl.’"

Estrada was just 19 years old when a suspicious mole changed his life.

“That was the first time in my life that I ever really had an encounter with death,” he said.

This year, the National Cancer Institute estimates that 91,270 people will be diagnosed with skin cancer, and 9,320 people will die from it.

Dr. Brenda Simpson, a dermatologist with the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation, says there are two reasons El Pasoans are at a high risk of skin cancer.

The first is due to our city's climate -- we experience about 300 days of clear skies each year.

“The other reason El Pasoans are in for an increase in skin cancer is because we don't practice a lot of sun protection”

That’s where the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation wants to help.

The foundation launched a sunscreen initiative, where two sunscreen dispensers are now available in every spray park across the city.

“It’s the first in the state of Texas and it's the first in the City of El Paso,” Patty Tiscareno, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation, said.

Below are some safety tips you can follow to help prevent skin cancer:

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes BEFORE sun exposure and reapply after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Wear wide brimmed hats, sunglasses and long sleeves.
  • Seek shade as often as possible.
  • Minimize summer sun exposure between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Check your skin for abnormalities.

Because it’s not just spray parks where kids are in danger, the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation wants to take this sunscreen initiative a step further.

“In our phase 2, we are going to start looking at the Sportsplex, where young people play soccer, football, etc." said Tiscareno. "Also, we’d like to expand to outdoor venues (like) McKelligon Canyon and downtown,”

While children continue to spend time outdoors, here are some facts about skin cancer and children’s risk factors.

  • Sunburns can happen within 15 minutes of being in the sun, but redness and discomfort may be noticed a few hours later.
  • A person’s risk of melanoma can double if they have had more than 5 sunburns at any age.
  • Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for young adult 15-29 years old.
  • Unprotected sun exposure is even more dangerous for kids who have miles, freckles, very fair skin and light hair.

As the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation continues to help the public stay safe this summer, Estrada urges you to take the extra steps towards sun protection.

“Take the necessary precautions because they are easy to take,” he said. “And it’s foolish to risk your life you to just not put on sunscreen or wear a hat or stay indoors if it’s really hot."


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