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Skin Cancer Prevention: Let the Sun Shine Safely

skin cancer-cancer-uv rays-ub-tanning
skin cancer-cancer-uv rays-ub-tanning

Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to the sun or UV rays from man-made sources like tanning beds. The guidance provided here can help prevent skin cancer.

Vivienne Stearns-Elliott

Regional Director, Integrated Marketing and Communications, American Cancer Society

For the first time in the United States, more than 2 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year. And of those cancer cases, do you know what the most common cancer is in the nation? It’s not breast cancer nor prostate cancer — it’s skin cancer. More than 5 million skin cancers are diagnosed annually in more than 3.3 million people because some people are diagnosed with more than one skin cancer.

“With summer in the offing and increased sun exposure, we need to remember how important it is to take care of our skin,” said Arnold M. Baskies, M.D., FACS, a member of the American Cancer Society Global Cancer Control Advisory Board. “Over 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with a skin cancer daily; that’s the bad news. The good news is that most skin cancers can be prevented from occurring. It is ever so important that we have fun in the sun, but that we also take advantage of some simple measures to protect ourselves and, especially, our kids.”

Reducing your risk of developing skin cancer really is very simple: avoid sun burns; apply sunscreen products that are UVA and UVB rated, and carry an SPF rating of at least 30; wear a hat and protective clothing when going outside, especially with mid-day sun exposure; take advantage of the shade.

Skin cancer facts

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell. Invasive melanoma accounts for only 1% of all skin cancer cases but the majority of deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

In 2024, an estimated 100,640 new cases of invasive and 99,700 cases of in situ melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States, while 8,290 people will die from the disease. Incidence rates are higher in women than in men before age 50, but thereafter are much higher in men, presumably reflecting age differences in their occupational and recreational exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, as well as higher use of indoor tanning among young women.

Excess exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or indoor tanning increases risk for almost all skin cancers, and people with light skin color are most susceptible.

​Anyone can get skin cancer, but be extra careful if you:

  • Have natural blonde or red hair
  • Have freckles
  • Are fair-skinned
  • Spend a lot of time outdoors
  • Have had skin cancer before
  • Live in or travel to tropical climates or high altitudes
  • Take medications that make you sensitive to light
  • Have had a lot of sunburns and burn before tanning
  • Have a condition that lowers your immune system
  • Have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
  • Have a lot of moles, or large or irregularly shaped moles (see

​Protect your skin year-round. UV rays are around all the time, no matter what the season

Seek shade, (especially at the sun’s height, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).Cover up with clothing, wear sunglasses, wear a hat, and don’t use tanning beds or lamps.

Use sunscreen. Look for broad spectrum products that protect against both UVA and UVB raysand have an SPF of at least 30 (SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays), and use a 30 SPF lip balm, too!

When applying sunscreen, be generous! One ounce (about a palmful) should be used to cover the arms, legs, neck and face. And don’t forget your ears, hands, feet, and under-sides of your arms.

​Cover up the kiddies, too! Kids burn more easily, and babies younger than 6 months old should be kept out of direct sunlight. The American Cancer Society provides educational and prevention information about skin cancer, and has a free 24/7 National Cancer Information Center line with trained cancer specialists at 1-800-227-2345 who can answer questions and provide resources day or night.

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