Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, and it’s the most preventable cancer. Most skin cancer is caused by damage from the sun’s UV rays (ultraviolet radiation). This year, an estimated 96,400 people will be diagnosed with melanoma—the most dangerous type of skin cancer—and over 7,200 will die of the disease. Every year, over two million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer—either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.
Along with fun in the sun comes serious health risks, which is why it’s important to follow proper steps to reduce your cancer risk.
Katherine Kennedy shares 5 simple steps on how to protect your skin from the sun.
On a beautiful sunny day, there’s nothing like being outside and having fun, whether it’s going for a bike ride, taking the kids to the park or heading out for a walk or run. But along with fun in the sun comes serious health risks, including skin cancer and premature aging resulting from exposure to the sun’s powerful ultraviolet rays (both UVA and UVB). Although skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, it is also the most preventable cancer if you take the proper steps to reduce your risk.
By following these 7 simple tips below, you can enjoy your time outside while protecting your skin from the sun.
Important note about Vitamin D: Recent research on the benefits of vitamin D (made by the skin from sunlight) indicates that just a brief exposure of your face, arms and hands to the sun is sufficient—about 15 minutes a day, three days per week. Talk to your health care professional about Vitamin D and your health.
Even one severe sunburn during childhood or teenage years can increase the risk of skin cancer later so it is important to protect your children’s skin. Children get nearly a quarter of their lifetime sun exposure before the age of 18. Protecting the skin during the first 18 years of life can reduce the risk of some types of skin cancer by up to 78%.
Skin cancer is the most preventable cancer; therefore, it’s important to have your health care professional examine your skin once a year to stay healthy.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, and it’s the most preventable cancer. This year, an estimated 96,400 people will be diagnosed with melanoma–the most dangerous type of skin cancer–and nearly 7,200 will die of the disease. Every year, as many as two million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer.
That’s why it’s so important to have your health care professional examine your skin once a year, especially after age 50. Also, be sure to conduct a self-exam from head to toe at home at least once a month and report any suspicious skin area, non-healing sore or change in a mole or freckle to your physician.
It’s important to check your skin for suspicious moles once a month and report anything unusual to your health care professional. Remember the ABCDE rule: Asymmetry (one half of the mole doesn’t match the other), Border irregularity, Color that is not uniform, Diameter greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser), and Evolving size, shape or color.
Normal Mole – Abnormal Mole
Normal Mole – Abnormal Mole
Normal Mole – Abnormal Moles
Normal Mole – Abnormal Mole
If you notice any CHANGE in size, shape or elevation of a mole, or experience any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting, see your health care professional promptly.
Redness, dark spots, raccoon-like eye circles and uneven skin coloring are all examples of what sun damage can look like on your face and body—but sometimes it might not be quite as noticeable. It’s important to be educated about the various ways sun damage can appear on your skin so you can better protect yourself and know when to consult your health care physician.
Whenever a photo is snapped of Kristine Fargotstein, the 24-year-old turns her left shoulder away from the camera to hide the 3-inch scar on her upper left arm. Even two years after surgery to remove a pre-melanoma area, she can’t help herself. She’s self-conscious when her scar is showing and dreads heading into tank top season.
“I grew up in the Southwest where it’s gorgeous outside 24-7 and we were always outdoors. We didn’t always think about sun precautions,” Fargotstein explains. “I went to college in San Diego and I was a ‘beach bunny.’ I even went to tanning beds for awhile. I admit I was stupid. I wanted to be tan for graduation.”
After her trips to the tanning beds, Fargotstein noticed that a mole on her arm was a little darker. She wondered if it was something to worry about. A short time later, while she was in her dermatologist’s office for an acne consultation, she hesitated to mention her concern. Thankfully, she did say something and her dermatologist took a biopsy. When the test results were back, Fargotstein got the news that it was serious — she’d have to see a plastic surgeon and have the mole removed.
“Doctors told me that it hadn’t yet developed into melanoma and they were able to ‘cut it out,’ but that I would now be susceptible to melanoma the rest of my life,” she says. Fargotstein is now adamant about wearing sunscreen, reapplying it and having annual skin exams. Every time someone asks about her red, zigzagging scar, she’s not shy about educating them about the risks of tanning beds and sun exposure.
Fargotstein, who now lives and works in the Washington D.C. area, urges others to talk to their doctors when they notice something is wrong with their skin. “Had I not said something to my dermatologist that day, I wouldn’t have seen her again for months. It could have developed into life-threatening melanoma by then.”
Skin cancer has been on the rise for decades. Melanoma is the most lethal kind of skin cancer. One of its first signs is a change in color, shape, feel or size of a mole. While melanoma usually strikes adults in their 40s or 50s, doctors are also finding younger people with the cancer. The best way to prevent melanoma, doctors say, is to limit your sun exposure, especially during the peak hours of 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; wear protective clothing; wear sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 15; and avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
Skin protection is now an issue Fargotstein is passionate about. “You’re young and think you’re invincible and then you realize at the age of 22, you could have a life-threatening cancer,” she says recalling the shock she felt after her diagnosis. “I had a 100 percent control of preventing it, but I didn’t because it was too important for me to look good in my graduation dress.”
“With skin cancer, you literally have the power in your own two hands to prevent it,” Fargotstein warns. “Be aware and realize that it can happen to you.”
As an ultramarathon runner who spends a lot of time outside, 50k American Record Holder Josh Cox knows that along with his time in the sun comes the serious risk of skin cancer caused by the sun’s damaging UV rays. That’s why he takes action to protect his skin before every run.
In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month this May and the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Save Your Skin Campaign Josh shares a few steps you can take to protect your skin from the sun — this summer and all year round.
CNN’s Brooke Baldwin, who was diagnosed and treated for skin cancer, shares an important message about skin cancer prevention and early detection.