Skin Cancer Overview
What are the risk factors for skin cancer?
Risk factors for non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers include:
- Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (sunlight or tanning booths and lamps)
- Pale skin (easily sunburned, doesn’t tan much or at all, natural red or blond hair)
- Workplace exposure to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium
- You or other members of your family have had skin cancers
- Multiple or unusual moles
- Severe sunburns in the past
What are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer?
Skin cancer can be found early, and both doctors and patients play important roles in finding skin cancer. If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor:
- Any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot, or a new growth (even if it has no color)
- Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or a change in the way a bump or nodule looks
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- The spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
- A change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
Can skin cancer be prevented?
The best ways to lower the risk of skin cancer are to avoid long exposure to intense sunlight and practice sun safety. You can still exercise and enjoy the outdoors while using sun safety at the same time. Here are some ways to be sun safe:
- Avoid direct exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Teach children the shadow rule: if your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
- Seek shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Follow the Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap! rules:
- Slip on a shirt: Cover up with protective clothing to guard as much skin as possible when you’re out in the sun. Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you can’t see through when held up to a light.
- Slop on sunscreen: Use sunscreen and lip balm with broad spectrum protection and a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen (about a palmful) to unprotected skin at least 30 minutes before outdoor activities. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, toweling dry, or sweating.
- Slap on a hat: Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears, and neck. If you choose a baseball cap, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
- Wrap on sunglasses: Wear sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB absorption to protect your eyes and the surrounding skin.
- Sunscreen doesn’t protect from all UV rays, so don’t use sunscreen as a way to stay out in the sun longer.
- Follow these practices to protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays travel through clouds.
- Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous. They damage your skin and can cause cancer.
What is the American Cancer Society doing about skin cancer?
- Education: The Society delivers high quality health information to the public so that people can make informed personal decisions. Examples include: printed materials; media coverage; community-based outreach programs; and free, nationwide services such as www.cancer.org and our 24-hour cancer information center at 1-800-227-2345.
- Advocacy: With the help of grassroots volunteers in communities across the country, the Society advocates with lawmakers at both the state and federal levels to enact responsible health policies and increase funding for research, testing, and treatment coverage. The ACS Cancer Action Network (the Society’s non-profit, non-partisan advocacy affiliate) has asked the FDA to review how it regulates tanning beds to reflect their known dangers in increasing melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer risk, and supports legislation banning minors from using indoor tanning beds.
- Service: The Society works to improve quality of life for people living with cancer through a variety of support services and programs helping patients and families cope with the disease.
- Society also collaborates with many nationwide organizations to promote skin cancer prevention, education, and sun-safe policies.
Last Revised: 03/19/2014