Summer sun safety: Checking moles for melanoma

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ROANOKE (WSLS10)-- As summer approaches, we're spending more time in the sun. Now is the perfect time to think about skin safety, checking our own skin and loved ones for moles and sun marks that don't look quite right.

When it comes to checking our moles, the American Academy of Dermatology is targeting one group in particular-- men over the age at 50. Experts say they're at a higher risk for developing melanoma than the general population.

"Most guys aren't thinking about that," says Tom Koutsoumpas, who is currently receiving treatment for melanoma. "Particularly older guys, like myself, who love being in the sun, never wore hats and never wore sunscreen."

Our faces, hands, the back of our necks and upper chests are all areas that are especially important to check and protect with sunscreen. Men aren't the only ones who need to be checking their skin. Dr. Mariana Phillips, a dermatologist at Carilion Clinic, says there are certain signs and symptoms we all need to be looking out for.

"Just remember, any mole that's changing, bleeding, itching, changing in size or doesn't resemble other moles is really cause for concern and should be checked," says Dr. Phillips. "Melanomas are treatable when caught early and can be really serious when caught in later stages."

Keep in mind, there are certain skin changes that happen naturally as we get older, like more freckles, wrinkling or an unexpected rash if you scratch a bug bite too hard. But there are other signs we need to monitor and be more aware of. This is when the ABCDE method of checking out moles can come in handy.

There are also certain skin types and coloring that are more at risk for melanoma.

"Fair skinned individuals are definitely more prone to skin cancer," says Dr. Phillips. "Our patients that have blonde hair, red hair, blue eyes, green eyes and very fair skin that burns easily-- those are the patients at highest risk."

Whether you're considered high risk for melanoma or not, it's important for all of us to use sunscreen on a daily basis. Doctors say most of the issues are seen on the parts of our bodies that we forget when putting on sunscreen.

"Women tend to get more melanoma on their legs," she says. "Men tend to get it more on their backs. But if you use a tanning bed, anything is fair game."

When it comes to tanning beds, we often hear people say they're going to get a "base tan" to protect their skin from the sun later on. Doctor Phillips says that is a myth. The UV light we get outside and the light that's put out by a tanning bed are completely different. She says using a tanning bed only increases our risk of skin cancer, without protecting us from further damage.

The five year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected and treated is 98%, so early detection is key.