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Summer has officially started and, with it, Major League Baseball is gearing up to warn players and their fans of the dangers of skin cancer. Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) are kicking off their 10th annual Play Sun Smart campaign.
"We're seeing more and more skin cancer in young patients. Melanoma, the most virulent form of skin cancer, kills more than 8,000 Americans every year," said AAD president Dr. C. William Hanke, an Indianapolis dermatologist. "The sun is very high in the sky during the next three months. There's less thickness of the atmosphere to filter out the damaging ultraviolet wavelengths, so the danger of unprotected sun exposure is increased. And sun exposure is the most important risk factor in skin cancer."
This year's Play Sun Smart campaign will feature a public service announcement with baseball commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig, Houston Astros second baseman Mark Loretta, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe and New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana.
For these men, it's personal. Selig and Loretta both survived melanoma, and Lowe had a skin cancer removed from his nose in 2003. Santana lost a close friend to the cancer in 2007. In fact, Loretta was diagnosed after being screened at a Play Sun Smart Event in 2004. "It saved his life," Hanke said. Major League Baseball will also be distributing sun safety-tip cards in ballparks, and sun safety messages will be announced during games.
Some one million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year, and baseball players are at particular risk, because they spend so much time in the sun, experts say. A 2005 AAD survey found that teenage boys--often found at ballparks around the country--are the least likely of all people to use sunscreen. That omission could catch up with them when they're older, since middle-age and older men have higher rates of skin cancer than any other gender or age group.In the past decade, more than 19,000 skin cancer screenings have been conducted through the Play Sun Smart program, including baseball players, major league baseball staff and their families. According to Hanke, those screenings have hit homes run for cancer detection, spotting 600 suspicious lesions, including 463 suspected basal cell carcinomas, 63 suspected squamous cell carcinomas and 66 suspected melanomas. "That's the whole ball game right there," Hanke said.