How to Prevent Skin Cancer


Can you prevent skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common, and one of the most preventable types of cancer diagnosed in the United States. Every year there are more new cases of skin cancer reported than colon, lung, prostate, and breast combined. While melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer, it is far less common than Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinomas (BCC/SCC). People with a history of multiple blistering sunburns have an increased risk of melanoma. On the other hand, BCCS’s and SCC’s usually occur at sites of chronic sun damage. For example, the face, scalp, and arms, but may occur at any body site. The good news is skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable. Although treating cancer is possible, anyone can take steps to prevent the condition. Here are seven ways to help you prevent skin cancer.

1.  Seek shade

Since the sun’s UV rays are the major cause of skin cancer, it is best to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially at its peak. From 10 am up to 2 pm, seek shade as much as possible. Or, if you noticed that your shadow is already shorter than you are, that’s another indication that you need to seek shade. Should you need to go outside during these hours, find ways to seek shade, like an umbrella.

2.  Wear sun-protective clothing

Your clothing should be the next step to prevent skin cancer. If you don’t have an umbrella, it is best to wear a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt and pants. You may also look for clothing with the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label for more effective protection against the sun. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection is also a plus. 

3.  Use sunscreen

Sunscreen is your friend, regardless of the color of your skin. It is best to apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes before going outside. A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays. Using sunscreen isn’t only for summer. Apply sunscreen even on cloudy days. When applying, you should also cover all parts of the body that is not covered by clothing. So, if you are wearing short-sleeved and shorts, then you would need more sunscreen. Take note of your neck, ears, top of your head, and even the top of your feet. If you are exposed to the sun for extended periods, it is best to re-apply sunscreen every two hours and/or after swimming. 

4.  Don’t get sunburned

Now, this one is pretty direct – don’t get sunburned. That’s basically why we listed all those protections above. Sunburn is usually marked with red and painful skin due to overexposure to the sun’s UV rays. It may vary from mild to severe. Sunburn can occur even with less than 15 minutes of exposure to the sun but its intensity may vary depending on the angle of the sun. Although it may be treated with some cream and pain relief, it is still best to avoid sunburn.


5.  Be extra cautious near water, snow, and sand

Water, snow, and sand seem harmless when it comes to skin cancer. But these can be dangerous to your skin’s health. These shiny surfaces can reflect the sun’s UV rays and thereby increase your exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. If you’re heading to the beach or the slopes, make sure to use sunscreen and cover your skin as much as possible. 

6.  Avoid tanning beds

The ultraviolet light used in tanning beds may also cause skin cancer. While many would dispute the dangers of tanning beds, the stats are undeniable. In a study of 63 women with skin cancer before 30, 61 of those women used tanning beds. Instead of tanning beds, you may consider using self-tanning products. 

7.  Examine your skin

Early detection of skin cancer increases the chances of curing it. As such, check your skin from head to toe every month. Not sure what to look for? In the following section, we’ll discuss the symptoms of the common types of skin cancer. 


According to Mayo Clinic, skin cancer usually develops in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. This includes the scalp, face, lips, ear, neck, arms, hands, chest, and legs. In rare cases, it may also form on your palms, under your fingernails or toenails, and even in the genital area.

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma symptoms

Basal cell carcinoma may typically develop in sun-exposed areas such as the neck and face. You can recognize it by:

  • A pearly or waxy bump
  • A flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
  • Bleeding or scabbing sore that does not completely heal

Squamous cell carcinoma symptoms

The squamous cell carcinoma also develops on sun-exposed areas. This includes the face, ears, and hands. However, people with darker skin may also develop squamous cell carcinoma even in less exposed areas of the skin.

Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as:

  • A firm, red nodule
  • A flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface


Melanoma may occur in any part of the body, even in areas that are not exposed to the sun. It may also be an existing mole that suddenly becomes cancerous. It can also be found on people of any skin tone. Yet for those with darker tones, melanoma usually develops on the palm, soles, or under the fingernails and toenails. Melanoma may appear as:

  • A large brownish spot with darker speckles
  • A mole that changes in color, size, feel, or that bleeds
  • A small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, pink, white, blue, or blue-black
  • A painful lesion that itches or burns
  • Dark lesions on the palm, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose, vagina, or anus

* Not every melanoma is brown. There are some sneaky types of melanoma that may be pink or skin colored, and therefore more difficult to spot.

Other less common types of skin cancer are the Kaposi sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and sebaceous gland carcinoma.


Risk factors

Aside from exposure to the sun and to other sources of UV light, the following are the factors that may increase your risk o having skin cancer:

  • History of sunburns

    When you experienced one or more severe sunburns during your childhood or adolescence, it increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. Even sunburns during your adulthood is also a risk factor.

  • Moles

    Not all moles would be cancerous. However, having many moles, especially those abnormal ones increases your risk. You should pay particular attention to your abnormal moles to notice any changes.

  • Pre-cancerous skin lesions

    As mentioned above, some of the most common types of skin cancer may first appear as pre-cancerous lesions, like actinic keratoses. These are rough and scaly patches on the skin that may be pink, brown, or black in color. 

  • Sunny or high-altitude climates

    Those who live in states with sunny and warm climates are already exposed to more sun compared to those people living in colder climates. If your residence is also located at a higher elevation, your risk is further increased.

  • Light skin type

    Although skin cancer may develop on any skin tone, having light skin does increase your risk. Light skin indicates that you have less melanin that protects your skin from UV radiation. This also applies to blondes, red-heads, and to those with light-colored eyes.

  • Exposure to radiation

    If you’ve received radiation for other medical conditions,  you are more at risk of getting skin cancer at the sites of radiation. 

  • Exposure to certain substances

    Some substances, such as arsenic, also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

  • History of skin cancer- If you previously developed skin cancer, or if any of your parents or sibling had skin cancer, you are more at risk.
  • A weakened immune system- Those who have HIV/AIDS and people who are taking immunosuppressant drugs are more at risk to also develop skin cancer.

Prevent skin cancer today

If you notice any changes to your skin that worry you, call 301-679-5772. Also, you can book an appointment online. Dr. Ife Rodney is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist. She is an expert in skincare, anti-aging, and skin rejuvenation for all skin types. Eternal Dermatology is conveniently located in Fulton, MD, and serves Clarksville, Columbia, Ellicott City, Laurel, Bowie, Silver Spring,  and Howard County, Maryland.

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