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Melanoma Monday: Tips On Being Sun Smart And Important Signs To Look For

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's melanoma Monday, the start of skin cancer awareness month.

Over $8 billion a year is spent treating skin cancer and one in five people will get the disease. Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, claims a life every 54 minutes.

According to dermatologist Dr. Doris Day, you do not have to be a statistic.

"Skin cancer is the most preventable cancer. It is also the most common cancer and there is so much you can do, just by being sun smart," Day told CBS2's John Elliott.

While most people think of skin cancer as something older people get, this cancer can strike at any age. It's the number one cancer in women ages 15 to 29.

So much of this is common sense like avoiding midday sun if you can, cover up if you can and use sunscreen.

But 43 percent of us never let anybody help with sunscreen and 37 percent never use sunscreen on their backs and only 36 percent of us ever check our backs for any sign of skin cancer.

"Skin cancer can happen in any skin type." Day said. "Everyone needs to be checked on a regular basis and should have a partner that they check on a regular basis with as well. In African-American skin, sometimes we see it on the palms and soles. Skin cancer sometimes occurs where the sun doesn't shine, so all your skin needs to be checked. Everybody of every ethnicity needs to have their skin checked."

Asa Barman-Berkuijl didn't think it could happen to her, and thought nothing of sitting in the sun. Then, a suspicious spot on her arm turned out to be a malignant melanoma.

"You think it's not gonna happen to me, you know it's not good for you but you still do it," she said.

"In my late teens and early 20's I was a sun baby," melanoma patient Tara Brown said. "I grew up in the northwest so I would seek out tanning beds."

Both Tara and Asa have the blue eyes and fair skin that put them at risk for melanoma and they both say they suffered sunburns in their youth, another risk factor for melanoma.

"If you have a history of more than five sunburns, you have an 80 percent increased risk of melanoma," Chief of Dermatology Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System Dr. Hooman Khorasani said.

In addition to her sun history, Tara mole-maker -- dozens started popping up in her 20's and enough have been suspicious she's had 12 of them biopsied in addition to the melanoma on her upper thigh.

So what is the most important thing to look for?

For starters, having multiple moles is a major risk factor.

"Having lots of freckles, and if you have over nine moles on your arm you're at high risk," Dr. Khorasani said.

The Academy of Dermatology suggests you watch out for the ABCDE's of melanoma on your moles:

  • Asymmetry, where half the mole is different than the other half
  • The borders are irregular
  • The color varies within the mole
  • The diameter of the mole is larger than a pencil eraser
  • The mole evolves, changing in shape, size, or color

Better yet, learn the prevention that Tara and Asa now take very seriously.

"I'm not going to be laying on the beach for hours," Asa said.

"I'll wear a lot more sunscreen," Tara said. "No tanning beds. And hats.."

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports that tanning beds should be absolutely avoided. The Dermatology Academy says you have a 60 percent increased risk of melanoma if you've used a tanning bed before the age of 35.

As you look for moles, make sure you have a partner look at body areas you can't see.

For more information, visit or the American Academy of Dermatology.

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