Skin Cancer Prevention

Updated on 04. Oct. 2020

Easy steps to help prevent skin cancer.

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Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the U.S., but it is also one of the most preventable. Below, find everything you need to know about this common disease and the simple steps you can take to help prevent it.

Risk Factors

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world, including in the U.S. A staggering 1 in 5 Americans will get a skin cancer diagnosis by the time they reach 70. There are many risk factors that contribute to a cancer diagnosis, including family history of skin cancer, skin and hair color, and exposure to harmful UV rays. While family history and skin color contribute to the risk of skin cancer, the level of exposure to UV rays has the largest impact on the risk of skin cancer.

Types of Skin Cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are the most common types of skin cancer, accounting for about 86% of all skin cancers). Non-melanoma varieties are typically simple to treat; most of the time the cancerous mole can simply be burned, frozen, or cut off.

Melanoma skin cancers are the third most common type of skin cancer, only accounting for about 1% of total cases. However they are the most dangerous. Even though it makes up a very little percentage of all skin cancer cases, melanoma accounts for most skin cancer deaths. Melanoma forms in what are called melanocytes, which are the pigment-producing cells in our skin.

Warning Signs

According to the American Cancer Society, the most common warning signs of skin cancer are:

  • A new growth on the skin
  • Change in color, size or shape of a mole

It is important to do frequent checks of your body and take notice of any mark that looks new or has changed recently, then visit a doctor for a more detailed examination.

How to Protect Yourself

Our skin is the largest organ in our body, which makes it even more important to protect it from the harmful effects of overexposure to the sun. Almost 90% of the aging our skin experiences is from the sun, and those same sun rays that age our skin help cancer cells grow.  Excessive ultraviolet radiation is a known cause of cancer, but luckily there are many ways to reduce your risk of skin cancer without avoiding the sun completely.

The first thing you can do to prevent skin cancer, stay far away from indoor tanning beds. These beds are filled with ultraviolet lights which are linked to over 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year. The government is taking note of this, and 44 states now have laws in place about who can use indoor tanning beds. For the most part, these laws ban those under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning beds. Your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, increases by 59 percent if you use a tanning bed for the age of 35. You should also avoid or drastically limit sunbathing in natural sunshine. Sunbathing, or tanning, outside is also a common cause of skin cancer.

Another important practice in preventing skin cancer is the use of sunscreen. Studies have found that applying sunscreen with an SPF of 16 or more will reduce your risk of melanoma by as much as 50 percent. There are a handful of body lotions and cosmetics on the market that contain SPF, making it easier than ever to protect yourself from the sun on a daily basis. When shopping for sunscreen, make sure you read the label to be certain you are getting the right product. The first thing to look at is the SPF, which stands for sun protection factor. This number is the amount of time a person can stay in the sun between sunscreen applications and still get full protection. The next thing you should look at is whether it says broad spectrum or not. A sunscreen that is broad spectrum is one that protects from both UVA and UVB sun rays, and is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation. Another important thing to consider when purchasing sunscreen is whether it is water- or sweat-resistant. Sunscreens that are water- or sweat-resistant will continue to protect you even if you are swimming or sweating excessively.

Sunscreen on its own is not enough to protect you from the sun, you should also protect your skin in other ways. When you are working outside it is important to wear long sleeves and pants, as well as a wide-brimmed hat. You should also take breaks from the direct sun or work in the shade when you can. If you are spending the day at the beach, it is a good idea to bring a large umbrella or other sunshade.

If you plan on doing an outdoor activity, it is also a good idea to do that activity outside of peak hours. These hours are between 9am and 4pm, depending on the time of year.

Though skin cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers, it is also one of the easiest to prevent. Simply limiting your time in the direct sun, wearing daily sunscreen, and wearing protective clothing will all help drastically reduce your risk of skin cancer. Remember to do frequent checks for new spots on your body (especially if you have a family history of skin cancer or are prone to moles) and consult a doctor or dermatologist if you find something abnormal.  

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2014.
  2. “Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics.” Skin Cancer Foundation. The Skin Cancer Foundation, n.d. Web.
  3. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2016. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2016.
  4. “Indoor Tanning is Not Safe.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and PRevention, 05 Jan. 2016. Web.
  5. “The association of Use of Sunbeds with cutaneous Malignant Melanoma and other Skin Cancers: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Cancer, 1;120: 111-1122. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, 01 March 2007. Web.
  6. “Sunscreen Safety: The Reality.” Skin Cancer Foundation. The Skin Cancer Foundation, 15 May 2012. Web.
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