Warmer weather and longer days are here, encouraging people to get outside and enjoy some fun in the sun. But before you head out, it’s important to remember a few simple precautions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage skin in as little as 15 minutes. Each year, more than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer, and 76,600 cases of melanoma — the most serious type of skin cancer — are diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society. About one in five Americans will develop skin cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there were on average more than 1,000 new cases of melanoma each year in Oregon between 2006 and 2010, for a rate of nearly 26 per 100,000 Oregon residents, compared to the national rate of 19 per 100,000 people.

Fortunately, when caught early, skin cancer has a 98 percent cure rate.

So, let’s get in the habit of performing regular, head-to-toe examinations for signs of skin cancer. When checking your skin, look for the A-B-C-D-E’s:

  • Asymmetrical: Does the spot or mole have an irregular shape?
  • Border: Does it have an irregular or jagged border?
  • Color: Does it have an uneven color?
  • Diameter: Is it larger than the size of a pea?
  • Evolving: Has it changed during the past weeks or months?
  • If you notice any changes in your skin, or detect moles or spots that exhibit the A-B-C-D-E characteristics, contact your physician.

    In addition, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself from the sun and help prevent skin cancer, such as:

  • Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) when UV rays are strongest. Keep in mind that UV rays can reach you even on cloudy days and can reflect off surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow.
  • Wear clothing that covers your skin, including a hat with a wide brim.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and sun protective factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and remember to reapply every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
  • Avoid indoor tanning and sunlamps.
  • Be especially vigilant about sun exposure for infants and children.
  • Roger Muller, M.D., is market medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Oregon

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