VennaSuraj S. Venna, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and director of the Inova Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center. He has a particular interest in the prevention, detection and treatment of melanoma. Read Dr. Venna’s profile.

Running around outside is one of the best parts of being a kid. But when children don’t have a place to escape from the sun, recess can be risky.

One of my missions as a dermatologist is to help prevent skin cancer. So when I learned about the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Shade Structure Grant Program, I was excited to get involved.

The program awards grants of up to $8,000 to help public schools and non-profit organizations install shade structures to give kids a break from the sun. I teamed up with Colvin Run Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia, and sponsored the school’s application.

We were thrilled when the AAD awarded a grant to Colvin Run Elementary last spring. Recently, the school installed the shade structure on the playground. Now kids have a shady spot to cool off and avoid the sun’s rays.

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The shade structure at Colvin Run Elementary School

Sun Exposure and Melanoma
Helping kids avoid sun damage is critical. Sun exposure is a key factor in the development of skin cancers. Unfortunately, kids are especially vulnerable to the dangers of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Most skin cancer cases appear in adults–but sun damage begins in childhood. People who experience five or more sunburns during childhood have a significantly greater risk of developing melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime.

Melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer, but it is the deadliest. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 73,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with melanoma each year, and approximately 10,000 people die from the disease.

Luckily, both children and adults can take steps to protect themselves from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet rays. When spending time outside, I recommend:

  • Seeking shade
  • Applying sunscreen
  • Wearing sunglasses
  • Wearing sun-protective clothing

Learning About Sun Safety
While the new shade structure at Colvin Run Elementary protects children from the sun’s harmful rays, the structure has another important purpose, too. It’s a great conversation starter that will inspire important discussions about the sun.

According to the terms of the AAD grant, schools that receive the award must also develop an educational program to teach kids about sun safety.

In the clinic, my goal is to detect melanoma early, so we can treat the disease before it spreads. But it would be even better if we could prevent melanoma from developing in the first place. By teaching kids about the risks, we hope that someday, melanoma will be a lot less common.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, please visit the Inova Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center.

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