7 Things to Know About Skin Cancer for Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May is Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month. Here are 7 things you need to know about skin cancer and common-sense ways you can protect your beautiful skin.

Happy woman in bikini and sunhat protecting her skin from skin cancer with sunless tanner.

1. Skin Cancer is the Most Common Form of Cancer

Each year, approximately 4.5 million adults are treated for skin cancer. 9,500 are diagnosed every single day.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 adults will develop skin cancer by the time they reach 70 years old.

2. There are Different Types of Skin Cancer

There are several different types of skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell skin cancer, and squamous cell skin cancer.

Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer. It is more likely to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body than the more common forms of skin cancer. An estimated 207,390 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2021.

Nonmelanoma skin cancer is a very common cancer in the United States, with more than 5 million people diagnosed each year. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are nonmelanoma skin cancers, are the most common types of skin cancer and rarely spread to other parts of the body.

3. UV Rays Cause Most Cancers

The majority of skin cancers are caused by the sun. About 90% of nonmelanoma and 86% of melanoma cancers are caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. Even on cool or cloudy days, UV rays can still damage the skin. On average, a person's risk for melanoma doubles if they have had more than five sunburns, but just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.

4. These Things Increase Your Risk

While anyone is susceptible to skin cancer, certain people are at greater risk.

Increased risk factors include:

  • A lighter natural skin color.
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
  • Blue or green eyes.
  • Blond or red hair.
  • Certain types and a large number of moles.
  • A family history of skin cancer.
  • A personal history of skin cancer.
  • Older age.
  • Exposure to UV Rays

5. Know the Signs: How to Spot Skin Cancer

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 99% of skin cancers are treatable if diagnosed and treated early. This is why it’s so important to keep an eye on your skin. Unlike other cancers, skin cancer is visible from the outside, giving you advanced notice if something is amiss.

Once a Month

Examine your skin. Perform a self-exam and look for the warning signs of skin cancer. If you see something new, changing, or unusual, get it checked by a dermatologist right away.

  • A growth that increases in size and appears pearly, transparent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored.
  • A mole, birthmark, or brown spot that increases in size, thickness, changes color or texture, or is bigger than a pencil eraser. Learn the ABCDEs of melanoma.
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed.
  • An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.

Once a Year

Schedule an annual appointment with a dermatologist, particularly if you have higher risk factors for skin cancer (like freckles, skin that burns easily, or a family history of skin cancer). A dermatologist can provide a full-body examination and may biopsy any suspicious spots.

6. Know How to Protect Your Skin from UV Rays

Use Sunscreen Daily

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Choose one with SPF 15 - 50. But be careful of sunscreens with an SPF over 50— studies have shown that SPF of 50+ tends to give users a false sense of security, leading to improper use and increased cancer risk.

Reapply sunscreen if you stay out in the sun for over 2 hours or if you swim, get sweaty, or towel your body off. Lastly, check the expiration date on your sunscreen to ensure it’s still properly balanced and that the ingredients are working properly.

Use the EWG Sunscreen Guide to find a sunscreen that's safe and effective.

Avoid Tanning Beds

Yes, we all want that healthy glowing tan skin — especially in the summer months. But getting that tan from a tanning bed just isn't worth the risk.

Researchers have found the use of artificial tanning beds dramatically increases melanoma risk, and starting to use tanning beds before age 30 increases the risk of developing melanoma by 75%, according to calculations by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Skip the tanning bed and use a sunless tanner for a gorgeous glow, instead.

Wear Protective Clothing

Cover up to protect your skin. Pants, shorts, shirts, hats, and even sunglasses can all help shield your skin from UV rays. You don't even need fancy SPF fabrics to get the benefits. Tightly woven fabrics made from dark colors offer the best protection, but, in a pinch, put a t-shirt on to keep the sun’s rays off your skin.

Seek Out Shade

Find some shade and you'll reduce your risk of sun damage and stay cooler on hot, summer days. If you can’t find shade from a tree, umbrella, or other structure, make it yourself with a blanket or towel.

Protect Your Babies

Sunscreen isn't approved for infants 6-months or younger. Protect your babes with clothing, hats, and shade. They're still developing the tanning pigments (melanin) that protect their skin from the sun and need all the help they can get.

7. Your Skin Deserves Protection All Year

This month may be dedicated to raising awareness of skin cancer and melanoma, but your skin deserves protection year-round. Even on cloudy or gray days, you're still exposed to the sun's rays.

Wear sunscreen safely, avoid tanning beds, stay out of the sun when you can, and be sure to schedule self-checks and annual skin checkups with your doctor. Give your skin the love it deserves and stay safe in the sun, lovelies.

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