Being Sun Smart: What You Should Know About Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, accounting for more cases than all other cancers combined. More than one million cases are diagnosed each year and approximately 50% of Americans who live to 65 will have at least one skin cancer. Learning the characteristics of skin cancer is essential to early detection. Knowing the steps one can take for prevention and early detection is important.

There are three main types of skin cancer.

BASAL CELL CARCINOMA: This is the most common cancer and accounts for more than 90% of skin cancers diagnosed. It is usually a shiny translucent or pink bump on sun exposed skin. It can, however, be found on any part of the body. It is slow growing and does not tend to spread to other parts of the body, but if it is not treated, it can grow in place and invade surrounding structures. These are caused from sun UV exposure.

SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA: This is the second most common skin cancer. It tends to look like a warty bump or a rounded firm bump, sometimes with a scale in a central crater. It can develop from scaly pink precancerous spot or can sometimes grow as a new bump and come up rather quickly, developing within a few weeks. This cancer, if not removed early, can grow deeper and spread to other parts of the body; however, that is not common. This skin cancer is usually from sun damage, but people whose immune systems are suppressed tend to get these, too.

MALIGNANT MELANOMA: This is a dangerous skin cancer. Some people call it “black mole cancer.” It tends to spread much more easily and rapidly to other parts of the body. Genetics play a big role in these cancers, but there are other risk factors, too. Sun damage can contribute to these, especially blistering sunburns and tanning bed use. One session in a tanning bed increases a person’s chances of getting melanoma by 20%. Each additional session increases that risk by 2% more. Diagnosing and treating these early is essential to cure.

  1. Signs of melanoma are known as the “ABCDE’s:”
  2. asymmetry of a mole (one side does not look like the other)
  3. border is irregular instead of smooth and round
  4. color can vary and red, white, blue and black color can be seen.
  5. diameter is important if a mole is getting bigger.
  6. evolution, or change, of a mole is being recognized as probably the most important warning sign of melanoma.


  1. All three skin cancers can be stimulated by sun UV damage. Genetics and other factors play more or less of a role in them. Risk factors for skin cancer in general are:Sunburns
  2. Cumulative sun exposure
  3. Red hair, freckling, skin that burns easily
  4. Having over 50 to 100 moles
  5. Immune suppression; that includes organ transplant patients, lymphoma     patients, patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, etc.
  6. History of any previous skin cancer
  7. Tanning bed use
  8. First degree relative with history of melanoma
  9. History of radiation treatment
  10. Living in sunny climates and/or at high altitudes
  11. Having burn scars


  1. Avoid unnecessary sun exposure, especially between 10am and 4pm when     the sun’s UV rays are the strongest. The shorter your shadow, the more     damaging the sun’s UV to your skin.
  2. Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of 30 or higher. Be sure it is broad spectrum and blocks UVA (tanning rays) and UVB (burning rays). It is important to apply the sunscreen 20 minutes before your sun exposure and to reapply it every two hours to get good protection. Do not forget the ears, back of the neck, back of the hands, feet.
  3. Wear protective clothing, such as hats to protect the top of the scalp.
  4. Avoid reflective surfaces such as snow, water, white sand and concrete. Wind also increases the UV damage of the sun’s rays.
  5. Cloudy days are still full of UV rays. Do not be fooled. Protect on cloudy days, too.
  6. Do not use tanning beds or sunlamps.
  7. Do not seek sun for vitamin D. Get it safely through your diet and vitamin supplements. Fifteen minutes of unprotected sun a day counts as 105 minutes of sun exposure a week!


  1. Know the ABCDE’s as above and check your skin monthly.
  2. Have a complete skin exam by a dermatologist at least once. Thereafter, your     need for further regular exams will be tailored to your risk factors.

Skin cancer is very common. Knowledge is very important in preventing and detecting this cancer early. You can still enjoy your sun activities, but it is very important to be sun smart.

The information found here is not intended to provide nor should it be interpreted to provide professional medical, legal or financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information.

Category: Experts Speak

Tags: BASAL CELL CARCINOMA, CancerForward, CancerForward Expert Article, Carol Drucker MD, dermatologist, MALIGNANT MELANOMA, Red hair, skin cancer, SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA, Sunburns, sunscreen, Tanning bed, UV damage