May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and skin cancer is the number one cancer in the U.S. Squamous cell and basal cell are the most common forms, and melanoma is the deadliest. About 76,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma, and about 16,000 people die from it every year.

So what can we do to prevent and treat it?

First, there are certain risks that should signal caution. A weakened immune system, a family history of skin cancer, pale skin (as well as blue eyes and red hair), workplace exposure to certain toxic chemicals, and of course UV rays from sunlight all increase risk.

And don't forget tanning. People who first use tanning beds before the age of 35 increase risk of skin cancer by 75 percent. The highest risk is from sunburn — having just one every two years triples the risk of developing melanoma.

Melanoma incidence rates have been increasing for the last 30 years despite widespread warnings. It is noted that before the age of 45, rates are higher in women but by the age of 60, rates in men are double that of women, and triple by age 80. That may well be because men are much less likely to protect themselves from the sun than women. Men get melanomas primarily on their trunk and women on their backs and legs.

The best way to reduce the risk is protection from the sun, especially during the hottest part of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wearing protective clothing is effective but few do so.

Sunscreen is the best protection, but most people do not use enough. In addition, all sunscreens degenerate within two hours (whether wet or not), so it needs to be replaced often. An SPF of 30 is the most reasonable and provides 97 percent protection. An SPF of 50 gives 98 percent protection, and higher SPFs only give negligible increases.

Antioxidants in vegetables, citrus fruits, carrots and avocados all help protect the skin, so those are the foods to consume if one gets a lot of sun exposure.

Even if protected, you should routinely check your skin yearly and note any growths or change in moles, especially if they are asymmetric, have irregular borders, are elevated or growing, are larger than 6 mm, bleed easily or don't heal. Although melanomas are usually black, they can actually be any color.

The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis. Early-stage melanoma may be curable with surgery, but it may involve regional lymph node removal.

For widespread disease, there are available chemotherapies, but immunotherapy is quickly becoming the treatment of choice and is based on identifying specific mutations in the cancer, thus allowing for targeted treatment that has proven to provide increased survival.