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As the summer months approach, they bring the excitement of spending a lot of time outdoors. While everyone loves their backyard BBQs and beach trips, these sun-soaked activities often put your skin at risk for UV exposure. It’s important to be aware of any UV exposure as it is directly linked to the most serious type of skin cancer: melanoma. Melanoma occurs when pigment-producing cells that give color to your skin become cancerous. Since nearly all skin cancers can be treated and cured with early detection, it’s essential for people to have regular exams with dermatologists and self-examine their skin at home.

Melanoma can develop in existing moles or in new pigmented or unusual growths on the skin. When inspecting any abnormal places on your skin for symptoms, keep in mind the letters ABCDE:

A: Asymmetry- Note any irregular shapes in moles, especially if one side is darker than the other.
B: Border Irregularity- Melanomas often have borders that are irregular, notched or scalloped.
C: Color Changes- Multiple colors in a mole or uneven distribution of colors may indicate cancer.
D: Diameter- A large growth in a mole larger than ¼ inch has a greater potential to be cancerous. Any mole or freckle with a diameter larger than a pencil eraser should be examined.
E: Evolving- Be sure to note any changes over time in moles or freckles, such as growing in size or changes in color or shape. Itchiness and bleeding may also occur in some melanomas.

There are many precautions you can take to prevent putting yourself at risk for melanoma. Wearing sunscreen year-round, avoiding excessive sun exposure and staying out of tanning beds are the most important to remember. The sunscreen SPF you wear really does make a difference—always go with an SPF 30 or higher. With sunscreen, it’s crucial to put it on everywhere before suiting up in your swimwear, as the sun’s rays can easily penetrate most swimsuit materials. In addition, you should let the sunscreen dry completely before heading out into whatever outdoor activities you’ll be pursuing. People often neglect to apply sunscreen to the part in your hair, the tops of your feet, and behind your ears. So make sure to show some sunscreen love to those parts of the body. Children and young adults who have had a great deal of intense sun exposure are at risk for developing skin cancer many years later. Although melanoma has been directly linked to UV rays, there are other factors to consider. People with weakened immune systems or a family history of melanoma are at a higher risk.

Catching melanoma in its early stages could mean the difference in a simple removal procedure rather than having to undergo treatment. Southern Cancer Center encourages you to know your skin and regularly examine your body for warning signs.

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