Prevention & Early Detection

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself and your family from excessive exposure to sunlight — and not only when you go to the beach. Skin cancer prevention should be practiced every day by seeking shade, wearing protective hats and clothing, avoiding the midday sun and tanning beds, and using broad-spectrum sunscreen (one that protects against UVA and UVB rays), even on cloudy days. Look for an SPF of at least 30, and apply two thin coats (about an ounce per application) as part of your daily routine. Be sure to reapply every two hours if swimming or sweating.

Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering do not recommend regular screening for non-melanoma skin cancer. However, any suspected skin cancer should be brought to the attention of a physician or dermatologist immediately. Basal cell carcinoma can almost always be cured if detected early, and early treatment minimizes the risk of serious cosmetic damage or functional difficulties.

During a skin examination with a dermatologist, the doctor will usually look at new growths, spots, or bumps on the patient’s skin to determine whether they might be cancerous or precancerous. After the examination, the doctor will show the patient how to examine his or her own skin and determine whether any growths have changed in appearance. Patients may want to pay particular attention to moles that have an asymmetrical shape, an uneven border, more than one color, or appear to be growing. This visual inspection should cover the entire surface of the skin, including places where the sun may not reach, such as the scalp, the soles of the feet, and between the toes.

To learn more, visit our Skin Cancer Screening Guidelines.