Sun Safety Tips for Preventing Skin Cancer

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Richard N. Waldman, MD

By Richard N. Waldman, MD

President, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Skin cancer accounts for roughly half of all reported cancer cases in the US. Non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are the most common forms of skin cancer, while melanoma is the most serious type. Though skin cancer can be dangerous or even deadly, it can often be prevented or successfully treated if detected in time.


Anyone can develop skin cancer, regardless of race or skin tone. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV rays, the invisible radiation given off by the sun or by the artificial light in tanning beds and sunlamps. UV exposure is also a main cause of skin wrinkling and discoloration.

Just a few serious sunburns over the course of your lifetime can significantly raise your chances of developing skin cancer in the future. You may also be at increased risk if you have many moles, irregular moles, or large moles; fair skin that freckles and burns easily; or have previously had skin cancer.

Remember the following tips to protect yourself from UV rays:

* Avoid sun exposure between 10 AM and 4 PM, when UV rays are most intense. If you are outside during those hours, make an effort to stay in the shade.

* Do not use tanning beds or sunlamps.

* Cover as much of your skin as possible with protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt and long pants or skirts.

* Put on a hat that has a brim at least 2 to 3 inches wide. If you choose a straw hat, it should be tightly woven.

* Apply at least a palmful of sunscreen that is SPF-15 or higher about 20 to 30 minutes before you go outside, even on hazy or overcast days. Reapply every two hours if you are swimming or sweating. Use a lip balm with SPF protection, too.

* Wear wrap-around sunglasses that absorb at least 99% of UV rays to protect your eyes.

* Perform regular skin checks. Being familiar with your skin will make it easier to detect changes. Have your partner, a friend, or relative help check hard-to-see areas such as your back and scalp, or ask your doctor to check your skin at your visits. Be sure to inspect your palms, fingernails, and feet—about half of skin cancers in darker-skinned people are found in these areas.

* Contact your doctor if you notice that a birthmark or mole changes in symmetry (one half starts to look different than the other); develops ragged or blurred borders; has different shades of browns and blacks; has patches of red, white, or blue or is not the same color all over; or grows larger than a pencil eraser.

For more information on skin cancer and sun safety, visit the American Cancer Society website at ?

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