Summer sun safety: Tips for preventing skin cancer or catching it early

With the unofficial kick-off of summer this weekend, doctors say it's an important time to think about sun safety.

More than 2 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, and the Skin Cancer Foundation says one in 5 Americans will get it in their lifetime. More than 76,000 each year are diagnosed with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, and more than 9,000 die from it.

But many cases can be prevented, or at least detected early.

Key to skin cancer prevention, experts say, is shielding your skin from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. Use a sunscreen that offers UVA and UVB protection, and an SPF of 30 or higher -- especially during childhood.

"A lot of our sun damage, cumulative sun damage, occurs when we are under the age of 18," Dr. Omid Hamid, an oncologist at The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute, told CBS News. "That's when the greatest risk is."

Researchers say getting blistering sunburns in youth more than doubles the chance of developing skin cancer later.

That's what happened to Wendy Zocks, who was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 34. "I always had sunburns but it's just what we did," she said. "We didn't know any different."

When she noticed a mole on her neck, she admits she didn't get it checked out as quickly as she could have. By the time doctors removed it, the cancer had spread to her brain and lungs. Treatment was successful, and Zocks, now 47, says she is cancer free.

To detect potentially cancerous moles early, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to look out for the "A-B-C-D-E's" of melanoma:

  • "A" stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
  • "B" stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
  • "C" is for color. Is the color uneven?
  • "D" is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  • "E" is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these signs, or any changes in your skin such as a new growth or a sore that doesn't heal.

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