A bright idea to fight sun's dangers Campaign at 22 pools educates on prevention, signs of skin cancer

June 11, 1996|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Residents who flocked to the Kendall Ridge pool to enjoy Saturday's sun were exposed to more than ultraviolet rays -- they were given hats, sunscreen and warnings about the dangers of overexposure to the sun.

The education campaign launched at the east Columbia pool -- and now at the 22 other community pools in Columbia -- is part of the Skin Cancer Awareness Project, sponsored by the Howard County General Hospital and the Columbia Association.

The project has been created by the county's hospital physicians and staff to educate swimmers, sun worshipers and, especially, parents about the dangers of overexposure to the sun.

As visitors waited in line to enter the Kendall Ridge pool area, some scanned a bulletin board plastered with the program's theme -- "Look for FLMs (Funny Looking Moles)" -- and photos of multicolored, asymmetrical and scalloped-edged moles that can signal skin cancerous melanoma.

In addition, take-home cards with information about the ABCs of recognizing unusual looking lesions and suggestions for monthly body checks were also in full view. Some materials, with bears and cartoons, were aimed at children.

"We are trying to focus on the younger population in order to get them into good habits," Joel Schlossberg, general manager of the Columbia Association's Aquatics Department, said. "The materials will cross a wide age range and will make it interesting for younger children."

Dr. Harry Oken, director of the skin cancer project and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Howard County General Hospital, said parents are often the most interested in the materials.

"They are the most consistent group who put on protection," he said. "Teens think they are immortal."

Soaking in the rays with caution were twins Erin and Krista Lee and their friends Lorin Cahill and Valerie Jackson, all age 15.

The Howard High sophomores said they studied the dangers of skin cancer in their health class. Although the girls were wearing sunscreen, they said -- expressing some guilt -- that they were trying to tan.

Lorin, who has black hair and fair skin, admitted that, for her, acquiring a tan isn't easy. Her arms were already red from exposure during a morning car wash.

"I always feel guilty after I do it, but I go and do it again," said the Ellicott City resident, who was wearing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15. "I look at my friends who are so tanned, and I stay out in the sun till I burn and then vow to never do it again."

Sitting in the sun wearing a bikini was Lori Sillyman, a 34-year-old Wilde Lake resident whose dark, tanned skin was proof of her love for solar rays. The self-described "sun-worshiper" said she keeps a watchful eye on her 5-year-old daughter, applying an SPF 30 sunscreen to her skin.

But for her own naturally dark complexion, the Hawaii native uses an SPF 2 or 4. She wears a hat to shield her face and uses a self-tanning cream to match the tone to her tanned body.

Nationwide, some 7,300 people are expected to die from melanoma this year, Oken said. Last year, 15 cases of melanoma were diagnosed at Howard County General, but Oken said he believes that's a conservative number because some county residents are treated at other hospitals.

"A pool is a great place" to educate people about skin cancer, he said. "If we can get one or two people to spot a melanoma, we have done a lot."

To prepare for the season, 220 Columbia pool employees studied sun exposure and skin cancer prevention. They are ready to give information to patrons who ask.

Schlossberg, the pools manager, said pool workers would hand out the bags containing sunscreen and hats until supplies are exhausted. "We have over 500,000 patron visits per season, and if we can prevent even one case of skin cancer, the program is well worth it," he said.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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