Florida is the Sunshine State, but all that sunshine means the risks of skin cancers, including melanoma, are particularly high.
Only California, with its much larger population, has a higher incidence of melanoma than Florida.
Moffitt Cancer Center's Vernon Sondak is the chairman of the Tampa hospital's Department of Cutaneous Oncology, noted skin cancers account for about half of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year.
More than 2 million cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer are found every year, and more than 87,000 cases of melanoma were expected to be diagnosed in 2017.
Sondak offered these tips to stay safe while enjoying the surf and sand.
1. When possible, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when rays are strongest.
2. Cover up with protective clothing made of tightly woven fabrics, and don't forget a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, ears and neck.
3. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 30 or greater, and reapply your sunscreen every two hours, especially if you've been sweating or swimming.
4. Wear sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays, too.
5. Pay attention to the UV index.
6. Avoid tanning beds. Research has shown that getting an "artificial" tan at a salon is just as dangerous as worshiping the sun — or possibly even more so.
Sondak notes that skin cancer is caught early enough, it is usually highly curable. He encouraged everyone to have an annual skin examination and to keep an eye on their skin and any moles in between exams.
In melanoma, one half of the mole is often unlike the other half. Melanomas are usually irregular, jagged or poorly defined. Melanomas may have shades of tan, brown or black, as well as other colors.
Any mole larger than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, is potentially concerning, although melanomas can occasionally be smaller than 6 millimeters.
It's always important to note any changes in your skin, such as new growths, dry or scaly lesions, oozing, bleeding, itching or pain.
If you notice these symptoms, don't procrastinate: Make an appointment with a dermatologist or schedule a cancer screening right away. It's important to raise awareness of this potentially deadly disease and encourage early detection. Remember it year-round.
This article originally appeared in the Tampa Tribune on May 9, 2012.