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May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

With 5.4 million cases in more than 3.3 million people diagnosed annually, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Fortunately, skin cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer and highly treatable when detected early.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone practice monthly head-to-toe self- examination of their skin, so that they can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous. Skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable.

You may find it helpful to have a doctor do a full-body exam first, to assure you that any existing spots, freckles, or moles are normal or treat any that may not be. After the first few times, self- examination should take no more than 10 minutes.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer is called melanoma.

If you spot anything suspicious, see a doctor! Below are the ABCDE's of Skin Cancer.

1. Asymmetry

Melanin cells that form into a malignant tumor (associated with skin cancer) are referred to as melanoma; and with this condition, an individual can either notice a new mole, or an existing mole changing its shape or getting larger. There is something known as the ABCDE factors of assessing whether or not a mole can be melanoma, and therefore skin cancer. The ‘A’ which refers to asymmetry, is the first sign of this. Does the mole (or now larger mole) have an asymmetric shape, meaning that if you drew a line down the center of it, the two sides would not be the same? If so, this could be a sign of skin cancer.

2. "B" s for Borders

Moving along to the ‘B’ factor in the ABCDEs of melanoma, another thing to look at is the border of the mole you have. Should the edges that border seem blurred or irregular … this too may not be a good sign, and mean skin cancer.

3. Look at the Color

Next stop is ‘C’ in the ABCDEs of skin cancer, and this represents the color of your mole. Should the mole have a variety of colors, including shades of brown and black, you may have a malignant tumor, and therefore skin cancer.

4. The Diameter of the Mole

The ‘D’ in ABCDE stands for the mole’s diameter. Should it be over the six millimeters mark, this may be cause for concern.

5. Evolution

The last factor in the ABCDEs of melanoma, is evolution. If your mole changes in color, size, or shape over time, this is not a good sign, and might mean that the mole is malignant, and a symptom of skin cancer.

What can I do to protect myself from skin cancer?

The damage that your skin has already received from the sun cannot be completely reversed. However, several precautions can be taken to reduce your risk of developing further skin cancers:

• Minimize sun exposure from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM when the sun's rays are the strongest. If you enjoy outdoor activities such as golfing, gardening, running, walking, or boating, try to schedule them outside of these "peak sun hours."

• Apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater at least one half hour before going outdoors and reapply as directed on the product label. Look for products containing avobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide. These products have the highest chance of providing broad spectrum protection, blocking UVA and UVB rays. Choose a cream-based sunscreen if you have dry skin, and a gel-based, or non-comedogenic formula if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Choose a "very water resistant" formula if you will be sweating or in water; however, remember that even these must be reapplied every 80 minutes. If the ears or portions of the scalp are exposed due to short or thinning hair, remember to apply sunscreen to these areas as well.

• Protect your lips with lipstick or a lip balm containing sunscreen.

• Wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

• Avoid use of the UV beds at tanning salons.

• Make sure to use sunscreen on overcast days. The ultraviolet rays can be as damaging to your skin on cloudy, hazy days as they are on sunny days.

• Use a sunscreen while at lower latitudes or high altitudes. The sun is stronger near the equator and at high elevations, where the sun's rays strike the earth most directly.

• If you need a little "color," use a sunless tanning lotion or get a spray tan.

The good news? Skin cancer can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early on.

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