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Burn after reading? Not this time

July 3, 2018 GMT

Summer is in full swing and plenty of people are spending all their time in the sun, but are you protecting yourself from those rays?

Melanoma accounts for about one percent of all skin cancers in the U.S., but causes most of the skin cancer deaths.

Jerry Brewer, a dermatologist with Mayo Clinic, shared tips for detecting — and hopefully avoiding — the dangerous cancer.

About 1 in 43 people in the U.S. will get melanoma, Brewer said. It’s a stat that’s nearly doubled in the past 15 years.

“It’s estimated that there will be about 178,000 cases of it in 2018,” Brewer said. “9,000 people die every year.”

What makes skin cancer so dangerous? Well, it’s tricky to see, for one thing.

“You’d think that your skin is easily accessible and it would be easy to detect,” Brewer said. “But it’s a tricky tumor.”

Often, skin cancer looks like a normal mole or a mild discoloration, like a series of pink spots.

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Melanoma and other skin cancers spread easily. After breaking through the basal (top) layer of the skin, the cancer roots, then dives deeper into the skin. From there, it can travel into the lymphatic channels and move almost anywhere in the body.

“It’s important to live … life to the fullest, but do it safely,” Brewer said. “Do skin checks, and see a dermatologist if anything changes after age 30 or so.”

Ultimately, Brewer said, it’s important to keep track of any changes in your skin’s appearance. If you know what your skin looks like, then see new moles or dark spots pop up — or an existing spot changes — it’s time to see a dermatologist.

The number-one way to prevent melanoma? Avoiding UV radiation, an established carcinogen. That means wearing protective clothing, seeking out shade, and wearing sunscreen. “Even an SPF of only 15 helps, if you do it regularly,” Brewer said.

Little doses of sun protection add up, he said — even using a dab of sun lotion on the nose, ears and cheeks in the morning can reduce the odds of getting skin cancer by 50 percent.

“It’s kind of like putting money in the bank. … The compounding effect will accrue over time,” he said.

C3: Ways to detect, prevent skin cancer