PHOTOS: 7 ways to prevent skin cancer

We’ve all got a lot of skin, and each one of those cells has the potential to become cancerous at some point in our lives. Therefore, it’s probably not surprising that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in America. It affects 1 in 5 Americans, and more than 3 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer will be diagnosed this year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Nonmelanoma skin cancers can be split into two subcategories — basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma — depending on where in the skin they occur. These both tend to be relatively low-risk cancers, especially when treated appropriately. “Basal cell skin cancers are the most common types of cancer, period,” accounting for roughly 80 percent of all skin cancers, says Dr. Mark Faries, co-director of the melanoma program and head of surgical oncology at The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute, an affiliate of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Squamous cell carcinomas, accounting for close to 20 percent of cancerous skin lesions diagnosed in the U.S., tend to be somewhat more aggressive than basal cell carcinomas but also usually respond well to excision.

1. Get an annual checkup. Annual visits to your dermatologist are a good way to keep track of skin changes. These changes are where skin cancer shows up, so they need to be checked out when they turn up. “Often what may look like a nonhealing pimple or a normal mole to a novice may in fact be skin cancer,” says Dr. Angela Lamb, associate professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “The key is that skin cancer can look very harmless if you do not know what to look for.” (iStock/Thinkstock)
Sunscreen and bug spray products — which are designed to keep us safe and prevent damage — are troublesome for some people. (Thinksock)
2. Wear sunblock every day and reapply. Just because it’s cloudy, doesn’t mean you should ditch the sunscreen — UV radiation can still filter through the cloud cover and cause damage to your skin. “If exercising or in the water, sunscreen should be reapplied every 20 minutes. Reapplication is particularly important when UV index is the highest, which is usually between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” says Dr. Hooman Khorasani, a skin cancer surgeon and chief of the division of Dermatologic and Cosmetic Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dermatologists recommend a broad spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection and an SPF of at least 30. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/paultarasenko)
3. Skip the sunbathing session. You’ve applied sunscreen, but are you still directly exposing your skin to the sun? Seeking that sun-kissed complexion can have dangerous consequences. ” Sunbathing is bad because ultraviolet rays are harmful to the DNA of the cells in the skin. When those cells get damaged it leads to signs of aging and then skin cancer,” Lamb says. At the beach, reapply a water-resistant broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every two to three hours, and much more often if you’re in the water or sweating a lot. Seek shade as much as possible, she says. “Often people apply sunscreen, but don’t actually stay out of the sun,” Lambs says. “Sitting under an umbrella and wearing a hat are critical.” (AP/Ioanna Raptis)
4. Avoid tanning beds. The radiation from indoor tanning beds is sometimes stronger than radiation from the sun. This can cause skin cell mutations, explains Dr. Gary Goldenberg, assistant clinical professor of dermatology and pathology at the Icahn Sinai School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Once cells are mutated, they continue to grow into tumors that are cancerous. Wrinkles are caused by damaging the epidermis — the outer layer of the skin — and the dermis — the middle layer of the skin,” he says. “The skin becomes thin, wrinkled and can look sullen from years of sun exposure.” (iStock/Thinkstock) [See: What Causes Cancer? 5 Unlikely Claims Explained.]
5. Wear protective clothing (and sunglasses). Although it’s tempting to lose the clothing, keep those shirts on, Ratner says. Better yet, seek protective clothing instead of traditional cotton fibers. She recommends seeking sun protective clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor — or UPF rating. A UPF 50 rating means that one in 50 of the sun’s rays reaches the skin. “UPF is partly dependent on the weave of the fabric (a tighter weave gives more protection), the weight and density of the fabric, and the color,” Ratner says. “Choosing a garment with a UPF label often means that the garment is fashionable as well as functional, with light breathable fabric.” You can often find UPF labels on long-sleeved shirts, pants and wide-brimmed hats. Covering up with such clothing can help you avoid skin cancer but also painful sunburns, says Dr. Pauline Funchain, a medical oncologist who specializes in melanoma at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Sun protection is an important part of skin cancer prevention because it absolutely prevents or reduces” the damage that UV radiation can inflict on skin cells. And don’t forget your sunglasses — this may help reduce your chances of developing ocular melanoma, a dangerous form of eye cancer. This relatively rare form of cancer affects about 2,500 adults in the U.S. each year, and while the connection between UV exposure and OM is not clear, some doctors believe there is an association. One thing we do know is that these cancers are more common among fair-skinned and blue-eyed individuals, the Ocular Melanoma Foundation reports. The American Cancer Society recommends wearing “wrap-around sunglasses with 99 percent to 100 percent UVA and UVB absorption,” as these “provide the best protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin. This might help reduce the risk of developing cancer of the skin around the eyes.” (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
6. Check yourself. If you have a history of extensive sun exposure, lighter skin pigmentation and a family or personal history of skin cancer, you should check your skin once per month. And be sure to check all of your skin — even those hard-to-see spots and areas that don’t generally see the sun, as skin cancers can still develop there. “If you are in a lower risk category, then (checking) every three months or so is fine,” Lamb says. If you notice any bleeding, burning, itching or a nonhealing sore, you should see a dermatologist, she says. (PhanuwatNandee/iStock/Thinkstock) [See: 10 Seemingly Innocent Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore.]
7. Follow the ABCDEs. Do you know your ABCDEs? The American Academy of Dermatology says you should tell your doctor if your moles have the following symptoms of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer: — Asymmetry — Half of the mole is different from the other half. — Borders — Are any moles irregular, scalloped or poorly defined? — Color — Check for varying colors, such as shades of tan and brown, black. Sometimes moles turn white, red or blue. — Diameters — Are they the size of a pencil eraser or larger? — Evolving — Has the mole or skin lesion changed in size, shape or color? ) (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Sunscreen and bug spray products — which are designed to keep us safe and prevent damage — are troublesome for some people. (Thinksock)

Melanoma skin cancers are rarer, but “melanoma can be a more aggressive form of skin cancer,” says Dr. Marc Glashofer, a board-certified dermatologist, skin cancer expert and a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon practicing in northern New Jersey. “The majority of melanomas are in the early phase and are easily treated with an excision. However, if a melanoma is caught in a later stage or is aggressively growing, then you’re dealing with potentially higher rates of recurrence and spreading elsewhere.”

Regardless of which type of skin cancer you develop, “when skin cancers are caught early, they are often curable,” says Dr. Desiree Ratner, director of the Comprehensive Skin Cancer Program at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. It’s important to be aware of your skin so you can protect it, Ratner says. Here are seven ways you can help prevent skin cancer:

[See: 9 Surprising Facts About Sunscreen.]

What Will Happen at the Dermatologist’s Office?

During the checkup, a dermatologist will examine your skin, including the scalp and areas of the skin that don’t regularly see the sun. “If a total body skin exam is performed, the patient will be asked to undress so that the entire surface of the skin can be evaluated by the doctor,” Ratner says. “No blood work is performed at a skin cancer screening.” The dermatologist will also look at any specific lesions you’re worried about. If necessary, he or she will perform a biopsy to determine if it is cancerous, Ratner says.

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What Causes Cancer? 5 Unlikely Claims Explained

7 Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer originally appeared on

Update 02/13/19: This article was originally published on April 30, 2015. It has been updated.

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