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Stopping skin cancer

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The greatest threats to our skin is cancer. May is melanoma awareness month.

Look at the pictures attached to this story. The American Cancer Society wants you to see them. Several of the images show a different, diagnosed melanoma- the deadliest form of skin cancer.

It's what Dr. David Stockman carefully looks for every day, under his microscope at Michigan Skin Clinic, in Saginaw.

Stockman says his patients are getting younger, "Thirty years ago a lot of women and men were tanning extensively, so we see a lot more of a younger population now, developing skin cancers- even in their 30s and 40s."

The truth is, he says, most melanomas are survivable- if they are caught early enough, "Ninety-five percent of skin cancers are cured, purely by doing an immediate shave biopsy."

Left untreated, melanoma can spread to other parts of your body. That's when it become lethal.

Catching it early starts with you knowing your own body, Stockman says, "Identify spots that you think may be cancerous or precancerous, and take care of them immediately."

If you see something suspicious, see a doctor.

You are looking for the ABCDE's: Asymmetrical moles, jagged borders, dark and /or changing color, a diameter the size of a pencil eraser or larger, and a mole that is evolving and changing.

"It's important to just pay attention to all areas of your body," Stockman says, "If you're not looking in those places that's where melanoma or another cancer could develop."

You should also have your doctor check your skin for suspicious growths every year, Stockman says, "Everybody needs to worry about skin cancer."

Vigilance is so important, because preventing melanoma is tricky. If you have had sunburns or sun exposure, especially the more fair your skin, you are already at risk. It can take years, even decades, after exposure for a melanoma to appear.

"It's not necessarily a matter of preventing melanoma at that point in time, a lot of the damage has already been done," Stockman says.

You can still protect your skin today, by following the rules of sun protection.

First, if you are going to be out in the sun, apply sunscreen SPF 30 or higher, Stockman says,

"SPF30 guarantees prevention of about 97 percent of UVA and UVB rays."

Apply it every two hours, or right after you come out of the water- even if you are using waterproof or sweat-proof sunscreen.

You may have heard you need about a shot glass full of sunscreen to cover your body, but Dr. Stockman has a warning about that: It won't necessarily cover your *entire* body.

"A shot glass will actually cover the majority of sun-exposed sites. The areas on the face, the hands, the lower portion of the arms, and your legs- your lower legs- not your entire body. So, depending on your body size or how big you are, you might obviously need more."

Also, don't wait until you are in the sun for your first application. You should put sunscreen on at least 30 minutes before you head out, to allow it to sink in.

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