Brasher: Make sunscreen part of your daily routine

Scripps Howard News Service - A few months ago, my wife discovered a spot on my back that looked a little different from all of the others.

It was shaped like a circle and a little bigger than a pencil eraser, with jagged, irregular edges. The outsides of it were red, but the center was almost solid black.

If you look up the symptoms for moles that might indicate skin cancer, you'll find almost the same description I just provided. So I visited a dermatologist.

He removed the mole, and thankfully lab tests revealed two weeks later that it was not cancerous. It was actually an "atypical nevus," a benign mole that is harmless despite its physical similarities to a deadly form of skin cancer known as melanoma.

It was a long two weeks waiting for those results -- both because the information about skin cancer available on the Internet these days is terrifying and because I know I haven't always done what I should to protect myself from the sun's cancer-causing rays during a life lived mostly outdoors.

How about you?

On sunny days this spring, have you paused five minutes to apply one of the many brands of sunscreen on the market? Or did you decide to chance it, thinking the worst will never happen to you?

Next time you're faced with that decision, think about this:

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed each year. The total cases of breast cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer combined don't equal that number.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and many of those will be diagnosed with melanoma -- the absolute worst of the worst.

Between 1970 and 2009, cases of melanoma in the United States increased by 800 percent in young women and 400 percent in young men. That stat is no doubt related to our country's increased interest in new-age tanning beds and old-fashioned sun worshipping.

An estimated 76,690 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed this year. Those cases will account for an estimated 9,480 deaths.

If big numbers don't catch your eye, how about a little one: One person dies from melanoma in the U.S. every 57 minutes.

About 86 percent of all melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation -- and while it's true the disease has a 92 percent cure rate, up from 49 percent during the 1950s, the treatment is a lot more grueling than the method of prevention.

Some experts believe it only takes one bad sunburn to greatly increase your chances of developing skin cancer.

With blonde hair and a skin complexion only slightly darker than the vampires that moviegoers are so crazy about these days, I've had more than one bad sunburn.

I was severely burned while riding as a media observer in the 1996 Bassmaster Classic on Alabama's Lay Lake. Then I moved from well-done to extra-crispy while vacationing in Cozumel, Mexico, the following week.

Trust me, you spend a lot of time reflecting on those kinds of things when you're waiting two weeks for a cancer verdict.

So do yourself a favor and make sunscreen as much a part of your daily routine as shaving cream and toothpaste.

I think we all can agree that choosing between spray-on or rub-on sunscreen is much more pleasant than deciding between radiation and chemo.

(Contact Bryan Brasher of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., at brasher@commercialappeal.com.)

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