Knowing Your Skin Could Stop Cancer Growth Early

It's the most common cancer in the United States, with more than one million new people diagnosed each year. Still, sun worshippers continue to bake their skin in the sun each year, increasing their risk, which can be deadly.

Tiray Wellen knows that all to well. He remembers the carefree summer days in his youth.

"You know, I always ran around playing frisbee without a t-shirt on."

And without sunscreen. But he ended up paying a high price for that freedom. Tiray was diagnosed with Melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer. The cancer was in his chest area.

The diagnosis changed not only his life, but the lives of those he loved most.

"My family freaked out."

A year ago, Tiray's melanoma was successfully removed before it spread.

"He was very lucky that he caught it as soon as he did and that it hadn't spread," Tiray's wife  Nancy said.

Gulfport Dermatologist Dr. Angela Wingfield agrees. She says early detection and prompt treatment are the keys to survival.

"For a thin melanoma, the five year survival rate is 95 percent and usually those people are  disease-free."

But that's only if it's detected early, before it spreads. Practicing in sunny South Mississippi, Dr. Wingfield says it's not unusual to diagnose skin cancer cases every day.

"If you can catch something early when it's small, it's so easy to get rid of."

Dr. Wingfield recommends annual checkups, but says people of all ages need to have a mental inventory of their own skin.

"If a mole they have is changing, losing its color, especially one that used to be brown and now it's turning pink, or it's getting much darker, or the edges are getting blurry. Those are bad signs and mean you should have it looked at."

She also recommends sunscreen with a sun protection factor or SPF of 30.

"Of course, if you could wear sunscreen and not get too much sun to begin with, you wouldn't have to be so worried. But even knowing what's on your skin after the fact, and how long it's been there is a huge help," Dr. Wingfield said.

And that help could save your life. Tiray Wellen knows that all too well and says he isn't taking any chances. He's taken steps to protect his own children, so they can hopefully avoid the trauma he went through with skin cancer treatment.