Skin cancer expert Isaac Brownell describes the tools that can be used to detect skin cancers and prevent unnecessary procedures.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid excessive exposure to the sun as much as possible — not just when you are at the beach or a swimming pool but every day.
Practice skin cancer prevention by:
- staying in the shade
- avoiding the midday sun
- wearing protective hats and clothing
- using broad-spectrum sunscreens with a minimum of 30 sun protection factor (SPF)
- not using tanning beds
Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both kinds of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation: UVA and UVB rays. Apply two thin coats (about an ounce per application) as part of your daily routine. Don’t forget to reapply the sunscreen every two hours if you’re swimming or sweating. It’s also important to use sunscreen on cloudy days. The UVA and UVB rays can pass through the clouds and damage your skin. Even if it doesn’t look sunny, the rays are there.
There are several risk factors for developing basal cell carcinoma:
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the single most important cause of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma. The radiation reaches you by invisible rays, which are part of the energy produced by the sun.
There are two kinds of UV radiation: UVA and UVB. Scientists believe that UVB radiation, known for causing sunburns and blistering, causes most skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma develops most often among people who have been exposed to UVB radiation in particular, especially if the exposure caused sunburns or blistering. People who work outside, spend time at the beach, or participate in outdoor sports have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.
UVA rays, generally responsible for tanning, also cause skin damage. Exposure to UVA rays can lead to premature aging and skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Sun lamps and tanning beds are other sources of exposure to harmful UVA rays and should be avoided. UVA rays can also travel through glass and clouds.
People with fair skin, especially those with blond or red hair and blue or light-colored eyes, have a higher chance of developing skin cancer. Fair-skinned people have less of the skin pigment called melanin. Melanin gives skin, hair, and eyes their color. It also provides a degree of natural protection from the sun. However, people with dark skin, who have more melanin, can still develop basal cell carcinoma.
Skin that freckles or sunburns easily can be a warning sign that you’re at risk for basal cell carcinoma.
People who have had skin cancer have a higher risk of developing skin cancer again. Up to half of all people who have been diagnosed with one basal cell carcinoma develop another skin cancer within five years.
Aside from sun exposure, there are a few less common risk factors for basal cell carcinoma. They include repeated exposure to
- coal tar
- other industrial compounds
People with a weakened immune system have a higher risk for developing basal cell carcinoma. This includes people who have lymphoma or leukemia, are receiving chemotherapy, or are being treated with drugs to prevent organ transplant rejection.
It usually takes a long time between when your skin was exposed to harmful UV rays and when basal cell carcinoma appears. This means that older people are at a greater risk of developing the disease. Also, as you age, your body loses its ability to repair damage from the sun. This increases your cancer risk as well.