Current Approaches to Finding and Preventing Skin Cancer

VIDEO | 30:00

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., with more than 3.5 million new cases each year. Most skin cancers can be identified with a visual exam, and can be cured with surgery. Melanoma is far less common, but is more difficult to cure than other types of skin cancers, such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.

The risk of skin cancer is higher in people with fair skin, and in those with a family history of melanoma. Overexposure to ultraviolet light – from the sun or from other sources such as a tanning bed – causes DNA damage and increases the risk of developing all types of skin cancer. Experts recommend using protective clothing and a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that blocks UVA and UVB rays to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

People who notice skin changes, such as a sore that keeps returning or a spot that changes color or shape, should have an examination by a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer. Periodic total body photography can help to identify changes in the number or appearance of moles (nevi) and other skin lesions. A non-surgical biopsy, which uses different wavelengths of light to see beneath the surface of the skin, can help to determine which moles should be removed for a biopsy. Removing precancerous lesions can reduce the risk of developing more serious disease.