Your Guide to Preventing Skin Cancer

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Time to Read: About 2 minutes

This information describes what you can do to prevent skin cancer.

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What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer starts when cancer cells form in the tissue of the skin.

A big risk factor is too much exposure over time to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or indoor tanning beds.

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Skin Cancer Prevention

The best way to protect yourself from skin cancer is to avoid ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun’s rays. We recommend you:

  • Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeve shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.
  • Protect yourself from sun rays by wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen. Broad spectrum means it blocks both types of UV rays (UVA and UVB). 
  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 30 minutes before going outside. Do this even on cloudy days and in the winter.
  • Apply a thick layer of sunscreen, about 2 tablespoons, on your face and body.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming, toweling, or sweating.
  • Stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when rays are the strongest.
  • Get into the shade whenever possible.
  • Do not use indoor tanning machines.
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Skin Risk Factors You Can Control

  • Exposure to UV rays
  • Wear high SPF
    • S - Sun
    • P - Protection
    • F - Factor
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Skin Risk Factors You Can’t Control

  • Fair or freckled skin.
  • Having moles.
  • Risk rises with age.
  • Men are at greater risk.
  • History of sunburns.
  • You’ve already had skin cancer.
  • A blood relative has had skin cancer.
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Did You Know?

  • Anyone can get skin cancer.
  • 1 in 5 Americans will likely get skin cancer.
  • The 5 year survival rate for melanoma is 99% if the cancer is localized and caught early.
  • Men age 50 and over are among those at highest risk for melanoma.
  • The number of people who die from melanoma has gone down because we have better treatments. This includes targeted therapies and immunotherapy.
  • Getting 5 or more sunburns in your life doubles your risk of getting melanoma.
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Take Action: Skin Self-Awareness

Check your skin yourself once a month to look for new or changing skin spots or moles. This can help you find problems before they become cancer, or find cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.

Self-Examination Tips

Figure 1. Tips for checking your skin.

Figure 1. Tips for checking your skin.

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The ABCDE of Skin Cancer

Use the letters ABCDE to check moles and spots on your skin.

asymettry
ASYMMETRY. Half the spot doesn’t look like the other half.
BORDER. The borders of the spot are uneven.
COLOR. The spot is more than 1 color.
DIAMETER. The width is more than 6 millimeters.
EVOLUTION. The spot is bigger than ¼ inch (6 millimeters), which is about the size of a pencil eraser.

 

If you find moles or spots that are changing, bleeding, or itching, make an appointment with a dermatologist (skin doctor).

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Comparing Chemical and Mineral Sunscreens

There are 2 types of sunscreens, and they work in different ways.

Chemical Sunscreen

  • Works by absorbing UV rays.
  • Is usually easier to spread on your skin and include water-resistant options.
  • Common active ingredients include octinoxate, oxybenzone, and avobenzone.

Mineral Sunscreen

  • Works by creating a barrier on top of the skin to protect it from UV rays.
  • May not absorb easily into the skin. 
  • Is a better choice for people with sensitive skin.
  • Contains Zinc or Titanium Dioxide.

For more information, visit www.mskcc.org or call 800-525-2225.

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