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Sun alarms melanoma survivor

Monday, April 4, 2005
Courier & Press staff writer

While many of us welcome the sunny skies of spring and extra hour of daylight after the time change, Robin Lawrence-Broesch feels something completely different at this time of year: fear.

“A lot of people can’t wait to get outside and enjoy the sunshine,” she said. “My concern is that they’re not taking the right precautions.”

After years of sun exposure and time in tanning beds, Lawrence-Broesch was diagnosed with melanoma in 2002. Since her skin cancer was detected early, it was successfully treated surgically. The Newburgh woman is now cancer-free, and has become an advocate of prevention.

“I still have this fear when I get out of the shower and look at my body and see all these moles,” she said. “What I’ve tried to do is use that fear to try to educate other people, and I’ve done over 100 presentations in the past two years to well over 12,000 people.”

In May, at the American Academy of Dermatology’s request, she will speak at the 2005 Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month national news conference in New York City. According to the academy, an estimated 105,750 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States this year, and one American dies from melanoma every 68 minutes. If detected early, melanoma usually can be treated.

Although not all melanomas are sun-related, excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is considered the most important preventable cause.

One childhood sunburn that blisters and peels will double a person’s chance of developing skin cancer, Lawrence-Broesch said. Eighty percent of skin damage occurs in the first 18 years of a person’s life.

“They don’t realize the dangers of what the sun can bring them,” she said. “They need to look at sunscreen as a shield protecting their skin.”

Lawrence-Broesch advises people to always wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15 or higher, avoid being in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and avoid tanning beds. When in the sun, wear protective clothing, including a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and UV-blocking sunglasses.

Lawrence-Broesch said that to obtain the protective benefits of sunscreen, you should apply it about 20 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, she said, because it can wash off, sweat off or wear off.

“1 never thought (melanoma) was going to happen to me. We all think it isn’t going to happen to us,” she said. “Ultimately, a tan can cost (a person his) life.”

In addition to skin cancer, Lawrence-Broesch said exposure to the sun’s UV radiation can cause eye damage, cataracts, premature aging of the skin, photo-toxic reactions to some medications and decreased immunity.

To request a prevention presentation, call Lawrence-Broesch at the Evansville Cancer Center, (812) 474-6000.

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