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May 16, 2013 10:14 AM by Samantha Ptashkin

Melanoma survivor warns sun lovers to protect themselves

TUCSON- Sixty-four-year-old Pat Aaby grew up long before the days of SPF, when sun-worshipping was in style.

"The idea was to put baby oil on and try to get as dark a tan as you could get," Aaby says.

But in 2000 Aaby's fun in the sun caught up with him. His wife told him to get a mole on his back checked out. Aaby later found out it was melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. "It was awful," Aaby says.

Melanoma kills more than 9,000 people every year, but there are several steps you can take to prevent it. "First and foremost, clothing offers some of the best protection you can have," says Dr. Sandra Leyo-Dupont of The University of Arizona Cancer Center.

Of course as temperatures heat up in Southern Arizona, Leyo-Dupont says more clothing isn't always convenient. She says your next best bet is sunscreen. "We typically recommend a sunscreen that has SPF of 30 or higher."

She says the brand doesn't matter. As long as it's "broad spectrum", you apply it all over your body and reapply every one to two hours, you are decreasing your risk of getting cancer.

Luckily early detection helped doctors catch Aaby's cancer early.

But he doesn't let his guard down. Today he always wears a hat while outside, he avoids the sun between 10am and 2pm and he goes for checkups every four months. "I tell everyone that I owe my life really to my wife, who happened to see this one on my back," Aaby says.

He is proof that being diagnosed with melanoma isn't necessarily a death sentence, as long you take preventative measures.

Dr. Sandra Leyo-Dupont says dark-skinned people also need to be careful about being in the sun. "That pigment does provide somewhat of a natural sunscreen, however it's not protective against the development of skin cancer," Dr. Leyo-Dupont says.

She also says to lather up even if you're just going for a drive in your car, since the windows don't block all UV rays.

Leyo-Dupont also has a warning for people who use tanning beds. She says they increase their risk of being diagnosed with melanoma by 75%.

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