COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. As we look ahead to summer and begin spending more time outdoors, now is a good time to remember the importance of protecting our skin from the sun.
"It was the summer of 2012 I had noticed an unusual skin growth," says skin cancer patient, Barry Barnes.
Over a decade ago, Barry Barnes noticed a change in the skin on his chest. He's a pilot and veteran. He along with many airmen and pilots are at increased risk of getting skin cancer due to their sun exposure.
"I worked outside a lot when I was younger," says Barnes. "After college joined the Air Force, became a pilot, and then above 30,000 feet you are getting a lot of extra UV rays that you don't usually get down on the ground so over time I am sure that has contributed to my condition."
His dermatologist, Dr. Vinh Chung at Vanguard Skin Specialists, says skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. And sitting higher than the rest of the country, Colorado has the nation's highest per-capita rate of skin cancer.
"We have roughly 5 million cases of skin cancer a year in this country," says Dr. Vinh Chung, Vanguard Skin Specialist. "That is more than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer all combined."
Colorado has 300 days of sunshine and many folks enjoy our weather, without realizing how powerful the UV rays are. Barnes said he spends time outdoors differently now.
"I try not to go out in the middle of the day," says Barnes. "I usually like to try and do a lot of my yard work after 6 p.m. when it is cooler and the sun is not as intense and I wear sunscreen a lot more frequently than I used to."
Skin cancer caught early is very curable according to Dr. Chung.
"The signs for skin cancer are any changes in existing moles that you have," says Dr. Chung. "We look for the ABCDs of melanoma. If it is asymmetrical, if the borders are irregular, if the color changes and becomes really dark, if the diameter grows larger than five millimeters those are the general guidelines that we look for."
And it's not just local military personnel and pilots. Health officials say anyone spending time outdoors needs to put on sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and even long sleeve breathable clothing. That goes for folks doing the daily routine of walking their dogs or going on a weekend camping or biking trip in the mountains.
The National Institute of Health says UV radiation starts being harmful after just 5-10 minutes.