Skin cancer: what to look for and how to avoid it - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Skin cancer: what to look for and how to avoid it

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SUNNYSIDE, WA - It's so tempting to be outside lately, especially after the winter we had...but are you using sunscreen? A lot of us forget, and some don't use it at all, which is dangerous. May is skin cancer awareness month, and there are signs everyone should pay attention to because it could save your life. 

Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer in the U.S.

"You don't want to get to the point where you have to come see me," said Dr. Patricia Deisler with Sunnyside Community Hospital Cancer Center. "I want you to get to the point where you're seen by your primary care physician and your dermatologist, then they do a biopsy, and it's early cancer, because it's the early melanoma that can be cured." 

One in five Americans will develop the disease in their lifetime, and as many as 50 percent of those who live to be 65 will get skin cancer. So what should you look out for?

"If they have a mole that was a nice, round mole most of their life and all of a sudden it's changing its characteristics," Dr. Deisler said. "It's getting bigger, the edges are becoming irregular, or the color is changing." 

But we all need Vitamin D, and the best way to get it is from the sun.

"I tell patients to go 15 minutes in the early morning hours," Deborah Titus said, a nurse practitioner at Sunnyside Hospital. "15 minutes in the late afternoon and you know, you can expose your body."

If you are outside, use sunscreen that's at least SPF 30, put SPF 50 on your face, and don't forget to reapply...especially if you're sweating or going swimming.

Also, completely avoid tanning beds.

"You know we can't prevent everything that happens in life, but if we're hyper-vigilant we can prevent some things and we can catch some things early," said Dr. Deisler.

Early detection is key, especially for skin cancer.

"Usually, stage 3 cancers and above are fatal," Titus said.

And while most skin cancer patients are older, that does not mean younger people are less likely to get it.

"Even if you're 20 or 30 and you've had a mole since you were a kid and all of a sudden it's changing...go see the doctor," advised Dr. Deisler.

If you notice any changes, have it checked out. Women should pay particular attention to their legs; that is where they get skin cancer the most. But for men, they typically get it on their back.