Proven strategies can help prevent the most common malignancy of all — skin cancer. Here's what you can do to keep the sun from increasing your risk.
Because early detection and treatment and can often cure skin cancer, it may not seem as worrisome as malignancies like breast and colon cancer, which take more lives. But that doesn’t mean skin cancer doesn’t pose a health risk.
Every year, more than 3.5 million Americans are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The most common forms, basal and squamous cell cancers, start on the outer layer of the skin on sun-exposed areas. While both tend to grow slowly and can usually be removed surgically, they can spread to other parts of your body.
In addition, nearly 100,000 cases of the potentially life-threatening form of the disease, melanoma, are diagnosed annually in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The most dangerous skin cancer, melanoma is the most likely to metastasize to other parts of your body, including your brain, if not caught early. Nearly 8,000 people in the U.S. die from melanomas annually, according to the NCI.
Bottom line: While early skin cancer detection and treatment is important, preventing it in the first place makes the most sense.
Five ways to help keep your skin cancer-free
Wear sunscreen every day
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (from sunlight or tanning beds and lamps) is an important risk factor for basal and squamous cell cancers and many melanomas, according to the American Cancer Society.
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters both kinds of UF radiation — UVB (the shorter wavelength of light that penetrates the surface of your skin and causes sunburn) and UVA (the long wavelength of light that penetrates the deep layers of skin).
Never use tanning beds. In addition to aging your skin prematurely, they are not safer than tanning in the sun. Studies have shown consistently that indoor tanning increases your risk of skin cancer, the American College of Dermatology points out.
Wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher daily is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans aren’t taking this advice seriously, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study revealed.
Women were more likely than men to use sunscreen on their faces. “However, it’s important to protect your whole body from the sun, not just your face,” said Dawn Holman, MPH, a behavioral scientist at the CDC who headed the study.
Apply sunscreen liberally and use it anytime you’re outside, even if the sun isn’t shining. UV light penetrates through the clouds and reflects off water. Although sunscreens can be water resistant, none are truly waterproof, according to dermatology experts. So reapply your sun protection at least every two hours, or more often if you’ve been perspiring a lot or swimming.
September 20, 2022
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA and Janet O'Dell, RN