In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May and Melanoma Monday on May 7, the American Academy of Dermatology is reminding us to kick our safe skin practices into high gear.
All individuals should apply a broad spectrum SPF every day, and watch their local UV forecast for daily updates when outside activities are planned.
Why? Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with the disease in his or her lifetime. There are more new cases of skin cancer every year than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although family history and your natural skin pigmentation play a role in your risk, the No. 1 thing that causes skin cancer is exposure to UV rays.
Dr. Erin Gilbert, a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation, offers these guidelines: Avoid the sun when it’s at its peak (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); wear sun-protective clothes, such as a hat; always wear a broad-spectrum SPF. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
It’s a myth that most sun damage occurs in childhood, so there’s nothing you can do about it as an adult, Gilbert said.
“Twenty-three percent of sun damage happens before you’re 18, but it is cumulative. It’s never too late to start protecting yourself,” she said. “Your melanoma risk doubles if you’ve had more than five severe sunburns at any age. Don’t let a sunburn or a tan deter you from seeing your dermatologist or wearing sun screen the next day.”
There are several different types of skin cancer with varying degrees of severity. The most common types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma; both are highly treatable if detected early.
Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. More than 60,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year, with nearly 9,000 deaths, according to Skin Cancer Foundation data. If melanoma is caught early, it’s typically treatable. But if not, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body and become hard to treat.
(MORE: Need-to-Know Melanoma Facts)
The warnings signs of melanoma are called the “ABCDEs.”
- A is for asymmetry: If you draw a line through your mole the sides won’t match.
- B is for borders: Melanomas have wavy or uneven borders.
- C is for color: If a number of different shades of brown, tan or black appear on your mole, or even red, blue or another color, that can be dangerous.
- D is for diameter: Melanomas are usually larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
- E means evolving: Any change in size, color, elevation or shape, or any new symptoms, such as itching, might mean cancer.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most melanomas are found in one particularly hard-to-spot area: the back. But yet people rarely or never apply sunscreen to their back.
To see what dangerous moles look like, click through the slideshow above.
Remember, you can't diagnose yourself with a condition like skin cancer. Visit your doctor if you have a family history of the disease, or any other sign that you might be at risk.