Five Steps to Better Skin Cancer Prevention

Donald Brideau | Inova

Donald J. Brideau, MD, is a board-certified primary care physician with a special interest in dermatology. He practices family medicine at Inova Primary Care – Lorton.

Skin is your body’s largest organ. It keeps your other organs safe from the elements and infection while helping to regulate your body temperature. But with all that exposure, skin is prone to damage and disease.

In the United States, more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, making it the most common cancer. The good news is that it’s also the most preventable cancer. If you take time now to assess your risk of skin cancer and develop some good habits, your skin has a better chance of staying healthy for years to come.

Take these five steps to start protecting your outer layer the way it protects you:

1. Understand the Importance of Preventing Skin Cancer

While the prognosis for most skin cancers is good, certain types can be deadly if not treated at an early stage. The two most common types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) rarely result in death. But they can spread into nearby areas if left untreated and come back if not entirely removed.

Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, can quickly spread to other organs if not treated at an early stage. It accounts for more than 7,000 deaths each year.

2. Recognize Your Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Some people are more at risk for developing skin cancer because they have factors including:

  • Family history of melanoma
  • Having more than 50 moles
  • History of sunburns or previous skin cancer
  • Lighter natural skin color
  • Light-colored eyes, a fair, freckled complexion and/or red hair
  • Use of indoor tanning beds
  • Suppressed immune system

3. Get to Know Your Skin

At this time, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not have enough evidence to recommend regular screening for skin cancer to the general population. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be familiar with your skin and be vigilant for changing or atypical moles.

Spotting an atypical mole is as easy as A-B-C-D-E:

  • Asymmetrical: Moles with an odd shape
  • Borders: The edges of the mole are irregular
  • Colors: Look for moles that are black, more than two shades of color or changing in color
  • Diameter: Suspicious moles may be larger than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser)
  • Evolving or Enlarging: Any moles that change or grow

If you have an atypical mole, be sure to see your primary care provider (PCP) for a full-body evaluation. Melanoma can occur in both sun-exposed and non-exposed areas of the body.

Five Steps to Better Skin Cancer Prevention

4. Use Sunscreen Correctly

Sunscreen can lower your risk of skin cancer by protecting you from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Look for a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) rays. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Even better, opt for SPF 30, which blocks about 97% of UV radiation. SPF higher than 30 offers very little added benefit.

Sunscreen should be part of your daily routine, applied to your face and any skin exposed to the sun, even in the winter. Use a nickel-sized amount on your face and a couple of tablespoons of sunscreen across the rest of your body.

Consistent daily use of sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher may reduce the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40%. To streamline your routine, look for facial moisturizers with built-in sun protection.

5. Consider All Types of Sun Protection

There are other ways to protect your skin from UV rays in addition to using daily sunscreen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:

  • Avoiding indoor tanning, which increases your risk of skin cancer
  • Staying in the shade, especially during midday hours
  • Wearing a hat with a wide brim that shades your face, ears and neck
  • Wearing protective clothing, such as pants, long sleeves or clothing with sun protection built in
  • Wearing sunglasses, making sure to look for ones that block UVA and UVB rays

We Can Help You With Skin Cancer Prevention

To understand your risk for skin cancer or request a comprehensive skin exam, schedule an appointment with your PCP. If you do not have a PCP, we welcome you to make an appointment with a provider at any of our Primary Care locations.

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