May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month and the perfect time to remind you about protecting your skin during the summer. You can reduce the risk of getting most skin cancers, including melanoma, by shielding your skin from the sun.

What is melanoma? It is a deadly form of skin cancer, usually starting in a non-cancerous mole though it may also appear where no mole previously existed. Melanomas usually begin as light-brown blemishes with irregular edges, and may turn shades of red, blue or white. Your doctor should promptly check a changing mole, a growing mole or a new mole. The American Academy of Dermatology advises you to see a doctor if your moles have any of the following characteristics:

• A for Asymmetry: One half is unlike the other half.

• B for Border: The edge is irregular, notched or scalloped.

• C for Color: Varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown; sometimes white, red or blue.

• D for Diameter: It is usually larger than a pencil eraser (greater than six millimeters in diameter), but may be smaller. Your doctor should check moles that are different from others, change, itch or bleed (even if small).

In men, melanomas are often found between the shoulders and hips, or the head and neck area.

In women, melanomas often develop on the lower legs or between the shoulders and hips.

However, melanoma can appear anywhere on the skin.

Who is at risk? Many factors may increase your risk for developing melanoma, including:

• Fair skin, light eyes

• Many freckles

• Severe sunburns

• Family history of melanoma

• Non-cancerous, unusual looking moles

• More than 50 moles on the skin

• A weakened immune system

• Exposure to ultra violet radiation from tanning salons and tanning beds

How can you help prevent melanoma? Protect your skin:

• Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when ultraviolet radiation levels are highest

• Use sun block (at least SPF 30, and reapply every two hours)

• Wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses

• Do not go to tanning salons

Check your skin periodically to get familiar with your moles and birthmarks. If you notice an odd-looking skin lesion, especially a mole with one or more of the “ABCD” characteristics, you should call your doctor immediately.

Remember, melanoma is treatable if detected early. Encourage family and friends to seek immediate medical attention if they see a suspicious looking spot on their skin. You may save a life this summer.