We recommend regular self-exams and whole body exams with a dermatologist to everyone, but if you are at high risk for skin cancer, this becomes especially important for you. Since skin cancer is one of the few cancers that is largely preventable, being “at high risk” does not mean you are destined to get skin cancer, so we will also include prevention tips that apply to everyone as well.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
While anyone, regardless of age or ethnicity, can get skin cancer, there are certain hereditary and environmental factors that put certain individuals are greater risk than others.
*People of Celtic descent
*People with freckles, moles or skin that burns easily
*History of skin cancer (personally and/or in the family)
*Outdoor workers (including gardeners and construction workers) or athletes
Skin Cancer Prevention Tips
Skin cancer is one of the most highly preventable cancers, and yet it is the most prevalent. Statistically, one in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetimes. Keeping in mind that about 90% of skin cancers are due to UV exposure, this number seems unnecessarily high. Why? Because so few people adequately protect their skin from the sun! Most people do not think of being out in the sun as being under radiation, but that is precisely what is happening to your skin.
Protect your skin from skin cancer (and premature skin aging!) by:
*Using broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Do not let a high SPF number fool you. After SPF 30, the protection increases only minimally. Even with SPF 100, you should be applying an ounce for the whole body and reapplying every two hours. The high SPF does not mean that it is “one and done.”
*Wearing sunscreen every day. Not just when you plan to spend hours outside. Not just when it’s hot and sunny. Every day. Why? (1) UV exposure is cumulative. Each short period of exposure adds up quickly, and the skin does not forget. (2) Up to 80% of the sun’s rays get through on cloudy days.
*Using clothing to cover skin. Clothing provides a physical block against UV rays. Tighter weaves and darker colors do the best job of this. Also, these days, UPF rated clothing is increasingly available. UPF ratings are basically SPF ratings for clothing.
*Avoiding excessive sun exposure, especially during peak hours. UVB rays are strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM, so seek shade as much as possible if you are outside during this time period.
*Avoiding tanning, including tanning beds. Despite these businesses’ claims, tanning beds are just as –if not more- harmful as tanning in the sun. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes tanning beds as a known carcinogen. In the US, the FDA began to require labeling noting the dangers of sunlamp products in 2004 (find out more here http://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/radiationemittingproductsandprocedures/tanning/default.htm).
*Get your Vitamin D safely from supplements and diet. For the vast majority of people, putting yourself at risk of skin cancer is not necessary to meet your daily recommendation for Vitamin D.
For More Information:
American Academy of Dermatology
*Prevent Skin Cancer https://www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/prevent
Skin Cancer Foundation
*Sun Protection http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection
Melanoma Research Foundation
*Practicing Effective Melanoma Prevention http://www.melanoma.org/understand-melanoma/preventing-melanoma
*Why is Tanning Dangerous http://www.melanoma.org/understand-melanoma/preventing-melanoma/why-is-tanning-dangerous