Protect Yourself in the Valley of the Sun

With our beautiful but fierce sun, Arizona has the highest skin cancer rates of any state in the U.S., says the American Cancer Society. And skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer.

In 2013, nearly 77,000 cases of melanoma, the potentially deadly type of skin cancer, are expected to be diagnosed nationally. Your biggest risk factor is ultraviolet light exposure. Additional risk factors include fair skin, freckles, light hair, a family history, previous melanomas and a weak immune system.

Protect yourself from the sun

Skin cancer is preventable: Avoid tanning lamps and tanning beds. Always wear sunscreen, sunglasses, protective clothing and a hat when you’re outdoors. Use sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher about 20 minutes before heading outside. Use a palm-size amount to cover your face, neck, arms and legs year-round, including hazy or overcast days.

The American Cancer Society recommends professional skin examinations every year for those over 40, and every three years for those ages 20 to 40. It’s wise to keep an eye on your moles. Normal moles are generally brown, tan or black and evenly colored, flat or raised, round or oval, and less than the size of a pencil eraser’s width.

The most important warning sign for melanoma is a new spot or one that’s changing. Follow the ABCD Rule:

  • A = Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B = Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
  • C = Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white or blue.
  • D = Diameter: The spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser’s width, but melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.

Other signs include redness or swelling, itchiness or pain, change in a mole’s surface (such as oozing or bleeding), a sore that will not heal, or a spread of pigment from the border.

Not all melanomas follow the rules, so watch your skin and talk to your health care provider about any concerns.