DEAR ABBY: I recently had to tell another patient, this time a husband and father, that the irregular-shaped mole on his shoulder was melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Unfortunately, dermatologists see cases like this every day.

Despite outward appearances of being healthy, this man was a prime candidate for skin cancer. Unlike many of my patients, he had spent the better part of his youth swimming and playing baseball in the sun with his skin unprotected.

Regardless of age or skin type, everyone is at risk for developing skin cancer. Last year alone, there were 105,750 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States. To avoid becoming part of that statistic, your readers need to be "sun smart" when they have fun in the sun. They need to do such things as generously apply sunscreen, wear protective clothing, seek shade, get vitamin D safely -- through a healthy diet or dietary supplement -- and AVOID TANNING BEDS.

As a dermatologist, I can attest that practicing sun safety and getting screened for skin cancer are the best ways to ensure lifelong healthy skin. Please help me spread the word, Abby. -- STEPHEN P. STONE, M.D., PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF DERMATOLOGY

DEAR DR. STONE: I'm pleased to help, and thank you for your compassion and desire to protect my readers.

Folks, in addition to heeding Dr. Stone's suggestions, you can also take advantage of the American Academy of Dermatology's free skin cancer screening programs. Throughout the year, dermatologists provide free screenings to help educate the public about the importance of early detection of skin cancer. (The good news is, most skin cancers average a 95 percent cure rate if they are caught early.) To locate free screenings in your area, log onto � HYPERLINK "http://www.aad.org" ��www.aad.org� or call toll-free: (888) 462-3376.

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DEAR ABBY: I am a 16-year-old female and have recently realized that I am gay. I came out to my parents about a year ago, and they were loving and accepting. It wasn't a problem.

My problem is I am not ready to tell any of my close friends. I am waiting until college to come out. However, because I haven't come out, I still get a lot of male attention. I'm worried that constantly rejecting all guys will give my secret away. Thus, I am in a relationship with a boyfriend I do not love.

I know it's not fair to lie to him and pretend that I love him. I don't want to break his heart. I have already ended past relationships for "no reason" and have had to think up reasons to give to my friends. (Even my best friends have no idea, and I feel guilty about it.) I don't think I can lie one more time about its being the boy's fault, because each guy I have dated has been perfectly sweet.

My relationship with my current boyfriend is becoming quite serious, and though I like him as a friend, I'm not ready for the sex that we're beginning to talk about. I want out, but I'm not ready to COME out.

Please help me. I have never had a more confusing dilemma. -- IN THE CLOSET IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR IN THE CLOSET: You are under no obligation to disclose your sexual orientation until you are ready. However, it's time to stop lying to the young man you are dating. All you need to say is that you have decided not to have a serious relationship until you are in college. It is the truth, and you do not have to elaborate.

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