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Fri, May 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM

What you need to know to protect yourself from skin cancer

Skin cancer is by far the most common form of cancer – more than breast, lung and colon cancer combined.

The deadliest form of skin cancer – melanoma - most often strikes white men over 50. But it is also the most common form of cancer for 25-29 year olds and the second most common in adolescents. It shows up most often on the backs of men and the lower legs of women.

Melanoma can appear anywhere. Dr. Wharton of Dermatology of North Alabama said he recently had a female patient with a melanoma on the sole of her foot. It was so advanced she will probably lose part of her foot.

“One American dies from melanoma almost every hour,” he said. “It’s important to look for the signs. Most are curable if caught early enough.”

  • Get any places on the body that are irregularly shaped, have a scalloped border, have an odd color, change or grow checked out by a doctor.
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat to cover head, ears and neck if you will be outdoors for a while. Use sunscreen and use it correctly.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Both are harmful.
  • UVB are the ‘burn rays’ of the summer sun. UVA are the ‘aging rays’ that are year-round.
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 but SPF 30 is better.
  • Apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before you go outside to give it time to soak into skin. Re-apply every 3-4 hours and more often if in water.
  • Apply generously. The recommended amount is one ounce – the equivalent of one shot glass – to cover exposed areas.
  • Sunscreen should have an expiration date. If you don’t see one, write the purchase date on it. If you think it may be two or more years old, throw it away and replace it. It’s most likely ineffective.
  • Don’t forget to protect lips.
  • Normal clothing has an SPF of about 4. It offers little protection from the sun.
  • Stay away from tanning beds.

“Tanning beds are kind of like they are the new cigarettes,” Dr. Wharton said. “We know cigarettes are bad. We know tanning beds are bad.”

If you have a suspicious spot, don't hesitate to make an appointment to get it checked out. Early detection makes all the difference with skin cancer.

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