Introduction

Excessive exposure to the sun and its
ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause skin cancer. You can
reduce your risk for skin cancer by:

  • Protecting your skin, and that of your family
    members, from UV radiation.
  • Performing frequent
    skin self-examinations.
  • Finding out whether you have an increased
    risk for
    melanoma and other skin cancers.

How do I protect my skin from UV radiation and skin cancer?

You can take steps to protect your skin from UV radiation. While sunscreen plays a vital role
in protecting your skin from UV radiation, it can’t prevent skin damage if you
are exposed to the sun’s rays for long periods of time. Experts recommend that
you use multiple methods to fully protect your skin.

Preventing skin cancer isn’t always possible. But being alert for new spots or skin growths and having your doctor check your skin regularly may help find skin cancer early when it can be more easily treated.

Protect your skin

  • Stay out of the sun during
    the peak hours of UV radiation, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wear
    protective clothing:

    • Wide-brimmed hats that protect the face
      and neck
    • Tightly-woven clothing made of thick material, such as
      unbleached cotton, polyester, wool, or silk
    • Dark clothing with dyes
      added that help absorb UV radiation
    • Loose-fitting long-sleeved
      clothing that covers as much of the skin as possible
    • Clothing that
      has
      sun protection factor (SPF) in the fabric that does
      not wash out
  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher,
    summer and winter, on both cloudy and clear days.
  • Apply sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB
    radiation to all exposed skin, including lips, ears, back of the hands, and
    neck. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going in the sun, and reapply it every
    2 hours and after swimming, exercising, or sweating.
  • Wear
    wraparound sunglasses that block at least 99% of UVA and UVB
    radiation.
  • Be careful when you are on sand, snow, or water, because
    these surfaces can reflect 85% of the sun’s rays.
  • Avoid artificial
    sources of UVA radiation, including sunlamps and tanning booths. Like the sun,
    they can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer.

A child’s skin is more sensitive to the sun than an
adult’s skin and is more easily burned. Babies younger than 6 months should
always be completely shielded from the sun. Children 6 months and older should
have their skin protected from too much sun exposure.

Know the ABCDEs of early detection

Skin cancer
can be cured if found and treated early. If it is not discovered or treated
until too late, it can spread throughout the body and may be fatal. Skin cancer
often appears on the trunk of men and on the legs of women. Learn your ABCDEs,
the changes in a mole or skin growth that are warning signs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: One half doesn’t match the
    other half.
  • Border irregularity: The edges are ragged, notched, or
    blurred.
  • Color: The pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan,
    brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add to the mottled
    appearance. Color may spread from the edge of a mole into the surrounding
    skin.
  • Diameter: The size of the mole is greater than
    6 mm (0.2 in.), or about the
    size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolution: There is a change in the size,
    shape, symptoms (such as itching or tenderness), surface (especially bleeding),
    or color of a mole.

Get to know your skin

Skin cancer, including
melanoma, is curable if spotted early. A careful skin exam may identify
suspicious growths that may be cancer or growths that may develop into skin
cancer (precancers).

  • Examine your skin once every month. Get
    to know your moles and birthmarks. And look for any abnormal skin growth and
    any change in the color, shape, size, or appearance of a skin
    growth.
  • Check for any area of skin that does not heal after an
    injury.
  • Have your
    doctor check your skin during any other health exams. Most experts
    recommend having your skin examined regularly.
  • Bring any
    suspicious skin growths or changes in a mole to the attention of your doctor.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Amy McMichael, MD – Dermatology

Current as ofMay 3, 2017