What is skin cancer?

Skin Cancer
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Skin cancer prevention: Overview

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the skin. It usually appears as a growth that changes in color, shape, or size. This can be a sore that does not heal or a change in a mole. Skin cancer is almost always curable when found early and treated. So it is important to see your doctor if you have any of these changes in your skin.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. It often appears on areas of the body that have been exposed to the sun, such as the head, face, neck, back, chest, or shoulders.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer happens when cells in your skin grow abnormally and out of control. The cancer cells can spread to other parts of your body.

Skin cancer may first appear as a new mole, a change in a growth or mole, a sore that doesn't heal, or an irritation of the skin.

Exposure to the sun is the most common cause of skin cancer.

There are three major types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell skin cancer is the most common form. It grows slowly and seldom spreads to other parts of the body.
  • Squamous cell skin cancer also rarely spreads, especially if it is found and treated early. But it's more likely to spread than basal cell cancer.
  • Melanoma grows and spreads rapidly and can invade other organs, such as the liver, lungs, or brain.

Preventing skin cancer

Preventing skin cancer isn't always possible. But you can take steps to protect your skin from UV radiation. Sunscreen plays an important role in protecting your skin from UV radiation. But it can't prevent skin damage if you are exposed to the sun's rays for long periods of time. Experts recommend that you use more than one method to fully protect your skin.

  • Stay out of the sun during the peak hours of UV radiation.

    Peak hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Find shade if you need to be outdoors. You can also find how much UV exposure you are getting by using the shadow rule. If your shadow is longer than you, then UV exposure is low. If your shadow is shorter than you, then UV exposure is high.

  • Wear protective clothing.

    This can include:

    • Wide-brimmed hats that protect the face and neck.
    • Tightly-woven clothes made of thick material, such as unbleached cotton, polyester, wool, or silk.
    • Dark clothes with dyes added that help absorb UV radiation.
    • Loose-fitting long-sleeved clothes that cover as much of the skin as possible.
    • Clothes with sun protection factor (SPF) in the fabric that doesn't wash out.
  • Wear sunscreen, with an SPF of 30 or higher, every day.

    This includes summer and winter, on both cloudy and clear days.

  • Use sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation.

    Apply to all exposed skin, including the nose, lips, ears, scalp, back of the hands, and neck. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going in the sun. Reapply it every 2 hours and after swimming, exercising, or sweating.

  • Use protective lip balm.

    Use lip balm or cream that has an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your lips from getting sunburned.

  • Wear wraparound sunglasses.

    Choose ones that block at least 99% of UVA and UVB radiation.

  • Be careful when you are on sand, snow, or water.

    These surfaces can reflect 85% of the sun's rays. Also be careful when you're at high elevations or in countries near the equator.

  • Avoid artificial sources of UVA radiation.

    This includes sunlamps and tanning booths. Like the sun, they can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer.

A child's skin is more sensitive to the sun than an adult's skin and is more easily burned. Babies younger than 6 months should always be completely shielded from the sun. Children 6 months and older should have their skin protected from too much sun.

How can you care for yourself to prevent skin cancer?

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves and pants if you are going to be outdoors for a long time.
  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., which is the peak time for UV rays.
  • Wear sunscreen on exposed skin. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Use it every day, even when it is cloudy.
  • Do not use tanning booths or sunlamps.
  • Use lip balm or cream that has sun protection factor (SPF) to protect your lips from getting sunburned.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.

Examining your skin for signs of skin cancer

Skin cancer, including melanoma, is curable if spotted early. A careful skin exam may identify suspicious growths that may be cancer or growths that may develop into skin cancer (precancers).

  • Learn the ABCDEs of early detection.

    These are the changes in a mole or skin growth that are warning signs of melanoma.

  • Examine your skin regularly.

    Get to know your moles and birthmarks. And look for any abnormal skin growth and any change in the color, shape, size, or appearance of a skin growth.

  • Check for any area of skin that does not heal after an injury.
  • Ask your doctor to check your skin during health exams.

    Most experts recommend having your skin examined regularly.

  • Bring any suspicious skin growths or changes in a mole to the attention of your doctor.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.