Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States with nearly 5 million people receiving treatment each year. Most cases of skin cancer are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV rays are an invisible radiation that come from the sun, tanning beds, or sunlamps. UV rays are also present on cloudy and cool days and can be reflected from surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow. In the short term, UV rays can damage skin cells, causing sunburn or tanning. Over time, UV damage adds up, leading to wrinkles, premature aging of the skin, loss of skin elasticity, dark patches (sometimes called “age spots” or “liver spots”), increased risk of eye problems, and sometimes, skin cancer.
There are three major types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common and can usually be cured if found in early stages. Melanoma, the third most common type of skin cancer, is the most dangerous and causes the most deaths because of its tendency to spread to other parts of the body, including vital organs. There are several other types of skin cancers, but they are rarer.
Although anyone can get skin cancer, individuals with family history of skin cancer and with these physical characteristics are at greater risk:
- Lighter natural skin color
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens, or becomes painful in the sun easily
- Blue or green eyes
- Blond or red hair
- Certain types of moles
- Older age
Protection from UV rays is important all year, not just during the summer. Although it is impossible to completely avoid sunlight, there are precautions that you can take to help protect your skin from damaging effects of the sun:
- Monitor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index daily.
- Avoid intentional outdoor tanning and tanning beds.
- Seek shade, especially during the midday when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Generously apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every 2 hours and reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
- Wear sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Wear sunglasses that block both types of UV rays (UVA and UVB), and a wide brimmed hat to shade your scalp, forehead, nose, ears, and neck.
- Use extra caution in reflective environments, such as water, snow, and sand.
- Examine your skin from head to toe once a month.
- See your physician every year for a skin exam.
For additional resources and information on skin cancer, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page.