Melanoma is the most serious and fastest-growing type of skin cancer, and skin cancer is the most common cancer in the country. Melanoma awareness is critical, as more than a million people in the U.S. get skin cancer each year.

We all know that melanoma can be caused by UV radiation from the sun, tanning booths or sun lamps. Adults get it most often, including older adults, but children and teenagers can get melanoma, too. Men get it more often on their trunk, head and neck. Women get melanoma more often on their arms and legs.

If you find melanoma right away and get it treated early, it’s usually curable. But it’s hard to treat and it spreads. So it’s important to be check yourself for signs of skin cancer regularly and see a doctor right away if you see anything that concerns you.

Risk factors for melanoma

Risk factors include having fair skin, light-colored eyes and freckling or sunburning easily. You are also higher at risk if you have had one or more severe, blistering sunburns in your life; you get lots of UV light exposure, or live closer to the equator or at a higher elevation. People who have more than 50 ordinary moles are at increased risk, too, as are people with a family history of melanoma or who have a weakened immune system.

Protect yourself

A no-brainer way to protect against melanoma is by wearing sunscreen. Put it on 30 minutes before you go out in the sun. Limit your time in the sun – spend a lot of your outside time in the shade – and wear your sunglasses, because UV rays can harm your eyes, as well.

Check your skin

Everyone should check their skin regularly and watch for changes. Use a full-length mirror, plus a hand-held one, in a room where there’s plenty of light.

Learn where you have moles and how they look and feel. See your doctor if you find anything that concerns you.

Here’s how to do a proper skin self-exam:

  • Start at your head and move down to your feet.
  • Check your face, neck, ears and scalp. Use a comb or blow dryer to move your hair so you can check your scalp, or have someone else look at it for you.
  • Check the front and back of your body in the mirror.
  • Raise your arms and look at your left and right side.
  • Check your upper arms, forearms (on all sides), palms and fingernails.
  • Check the front, back and all sides of your legs. Check the skin on your buttocks and genitals.
  • Sit down and look at your feet, toenails, soles and the spaces between your toes.

What to look for

Here’s what you should be looking for as you thoroughly check your skin and body:

  • A new mole that looks different than the others
  • A new red, or darker, flaky patch, which may be a little bit raised
  • A mole that has changed in size, shape, color or feel
  • A sore that does not heal
  • A new firm bump that is flesh-colored

A great tip is to memorize what “ABCDE” stands for. This is an easy way to identify characteristics of unusual moles that may be melanoma or other skin cancers.

  • A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles that are irregular in shape, such as having two very different-looking halves.
  • B is for border. Look for moles that have irregular, scalloped or notched borders.
  • C is for color. Watch for changes in color, growths with many colors or an uneven distribution of color.
  • D for diameter. Watch for new growth in a mole that’s larger than ¼ inch (about 6 mm, or approximately the size of an eraser).
  • E for evolving. Look for changes over time, like a mole that gets bigger, changes shape or color, or develops new signs or symptoms such as itchiness or bleeding.

A cancerous mole may have all those signs or only one or two of them. If you are concerned about a mole, see your doctor right away.

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