How to recognize and avoid skin cancer

Skin cancer is, by far, the most common type of cancer. In fact, it accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. Every year, there are more than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer diagnosed. The most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, will account for more than 76,000 cases in 2014.

Skin cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells that occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations or genetic defects.

While there are various types of skin cancer, many are caused by excess exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Fortunately, it is entirely possible to prevent and avoid this type of damaging exposure. Simple steps you can take to protect your skin include:

  • Seeking the shade, especially between 10 am and 4 pm;
  • Avoiding tanning and UV tanning booths;
  • Using a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher;
  • Apply 1 ounce of sunscreen to your entire body thirty minutes before going outside – then reapply every two hours, and;
  • Keep newborns out of the sun, and make sure you use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months

Avoiding sunburns is also pivotal to avoiding skin cancer, especially for children. Even one blistering sunburn can double a child’s lifetime risk of melanoma. Five or more sunburns will double the rates of melanoma even in adults.

Exposure to UV rays is not the only risk factor for skin cancer, however. Other risk factors include having a family history, multiple or unusual moles, pale skin or workplace exposure to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds or radium.

The signs and symptoms of skin cancer include any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole. Having a sore that doesn’t heal or the spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark, are also signs.

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