DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This is the time of year that my family packs up for two weeks in a cottage right on the beach. Every year the same thing happens: At least one of my kids gets a bad sunburn. This year I would like to be prepared with the best way of treating it. Spell it out for me, will you? – R.Q.

ANSWER: Forgive me for starting with a lecture. The best treatment for a sunburn is not to get one. A little sun is healthy. Too much isn’t. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight leads to premature aging of the skin. It wrinkles and loses its elasticity. UV rays also lead to skin cancers. Sun protection taken during the first 18 years of life lowers the risk of basal and squamous cell skin cancers, the two most common kinds, by 78 percent. And some experts say that sunburns early in life are a major influence in the onset of melanoma, the most lethal kind of skin cancer.

Cumulative exposure to ultraviolet light is a significant contributor to all forms of skin cancer.

Always apply sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 to the skin about half an hour before going outside. Reapply it every two hours and after every exposure to water.

Be liberal with the amount of sunscreen used. It takes a full ounce to cover all exposed skin adequately. If lips and nose always burn, use a sun blocker on them. Sun blockers contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and they form an all-but-impenetrable barrier to ultraviolet rays. People hesitate to use them because they make a person look like a clown.

Now that you have had the sermon, I’ll answer your question. Sunburns are best treated with compresses of cool tap water. Two full-strength aspirin for adults and the recommended low-dose aspirin for children lessen the inflammation that happens to skin and blood vessels when the skin burns. If there is widespread blistering, a doctor should be consulted.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a woman who has developed a layer of fat in the abdomen with age. I am 5 feet 4 inches tall, weigh 110 pounds and am 65 years old. I run stairs and walk three miles almost every day. I eat a balanced diet. What do I do to get my waistline back? – P.B.

ANSWER: Fat makes a beeline for the waist as one ages, and I am not sure why it does so. I can’t tell you to lose weight. You are perfect. The answer must lie in weak stomach muscles and poor posture.

Stand with your back against the wall and your heels touching the wall. Put a hand between your lower back and the wall. If there is a distance that allows a fist to fit there, the lower back sways too far inward. Flatten it against the wall and try to maintain that posture at all times during the day, even when sitting. That slims the waist.

Strong abdominal muscles act as a girdle to hold in a protruding stomach. Lie on the floor with your knees bent so they are pointed toward the ceiling. Your soles are flat on the floor. Cross your arms on your chest and raise upward until your shoulder blades clear the floor. When you reach that height, hold there for three seconds and then slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat eight times in a row, take a break and go for another eight raises. If you do this exercise a couple of times every day, you will build yourself a girdle of strong abdominal muscles.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 56 and have been doing step aerobics since I was 40. I use an 8-inch step a couple of times a week.

People tell me I will injure my knees if I continue to do this. Am I too old for this sort of exercise?

ANSWER: Fifty-six too old? You’re just a kid.

I have asked many respected orthopedic surgeons and rheumatologists if exercise hurts the knees or hips. All say that if there is no joint pain, exercise does not cause and will not cause joint problems. Go for it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Three years ago, my husband died from lung cancer. He smoked heavily all his life, even after the cancer was discovered. I am 59, have never smoked a single cigarette, and I have been diagnosed with lung cancer. Could I have gotten it from my husband’s smoking? What are my chances for cure? – E.A.

ANSWER: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women, with more than 160,000 North Americans dying of it yearly.

Cigarette smoke takes the blame for most of these deaths. However, there are other contributors to lung cancer’s emergence. Asbestos is one example. Furthermore, there are genes that somehow increase people’s susceptibility to developing it, but a single lung cancer gene has yet to be found. A diet low in fruits and vegetables is implicated as paving the way for lung cancer, but proof has not been established that a diet high in fruits and vegetables prevents it.

Secondhand smoking – the smoking to which you were exposed – has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a true risk factor for lung cancer. Secondhand smoke exposure in childhood presents an even greater threat of lung cancer later in life than does adult exposure. The answer to your first question is: yes.

The chances of surviving lung cancer depend on a number of things. One is the kind of lung cancer. There are four varieties. The chances also depend on the size of the cancer. Cancers smaller than 1.2 inches (3 cm) in diameter have much better prospects for cure. Spread of cancer to lymph nodes or distant organs is something else that must be considered when assessing the possibility of cure.

The only one qualified to make such prognostications is the doctor or doctors who have complete knowledge of your cancer.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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