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Everything you need to know about Melanoma and protecting yourself from skin cancer

Courtesy Getty Images
Courtesy Getty Images
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May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and today is Melanoma Monday, a day focused on raising awareness of the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“Many people don't realize how deadly melanoma is. Twenty Americans will die every day of melanoma. So it's a life-threatening disease,” says, Skin Care Specialist Maral Skelsey, Director of Dermatologic Surgery Center of Washington in Chevy Chase Maryland.

Skelsey says it is a common misconception that being out in the sun is the only way to get vitamin D.

"In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology did a survey and found out, about 70% of the respondents all say the same thing that you need to get out in the sun to get sufficient vitamin D and that is actually not true. There are much safer ways to get vitamin D through diet and through supplements. Vitamin D is very important for bone health and for overall health. The sun which is a known carcinogen is not the best way to get sufficient vitamin D. Get it through your diet.

Alex Gupman knows the dangers of the sun far too well as he currently is recovering from melanoma surgery.

My biopsy came back positive for melanoma. Initially, it was just this little spot on your ear, so not a big deal. Then as time when on, it turned out to be melanoma that spread in a very short amount of time. It was already at stage 3.

Alex had always put sunblock lotion on while outdoors but never thought of the odd locations like behind his ears.

Alex Gupman says, "It had spread into my neck and they ended up having to remove most of my ear and then they rebuilt my ear. They then had to go in and remove the lymph nodes in my neck. The big impact there is it's near nerves so they nicked a nerve, and I now have no feeling on that side of my face. It makes shaving a little difficult".

Besides wearing more hats and applying sunblock everywhere his skin is exposed to the sun daily, Alex has another suggestion. Look at your spots, see any change or any abnormality, that's when you should call. A mole can develop in a very short amount of time. Everyone's spot will look different but it's really checking to see if something has changed in shape or color. That's when you need to pick up the phone and call your doctor."

Here are the Melanoma ABC's to Prevention

Since skin cancer is highly treatable when detected early. The American Academy of Dermatology encourages everyone to perform regular skin self-exams and look out for the ABCDEs — the warning signs of melanoma:

  • A is for Asymmetry: One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
  • B is for Border: The spot has an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
  • C is for Color: The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red or blue.
  • D is for Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters – or about the size of a pencil eraser - when diagnosed, they can be smaller.Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer daily.
  • E is for Evolving: The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.

Skin Cancer Factors

Exposure to ultraviolet light — from the sun and indoor tanning devices — is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, including melanoma.

Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate the clouds.

Tanning — both indoors and out — can lead to wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancer.

Using tanning beds before age 35 can increase your chances of developing melanoma by 59%, and the risk increases with each use.

Women younger than 30 are six times more likely to develop melanoma if they tan indoors.

Everyone is at risk of skin cancer — regardless of age, gender, or race.

Skin cancer in patients with skin of color is often diagnosed in its later stages when it’s more difficult to treat.

People with skin of color are prone to skin cancer in areas that aren’t commonly exposed to the sun, like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, groin, and the inside of the mouth. They may also develop melanoma under their nails.

How to Protect Yourself from the Sun and Reduce Your Skin Cancer Risk

To protect your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends following these tips whenever spending time outdoors:

  • Seek shade, especially from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Dress to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
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Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. To learn more about skin cancer prevention and detection visit

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