How to Prevent Skin Cancer: 5 Quick Tips

June 16, 2022

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Richard B. Arenas, MD Richard B. Arenas, MD View Profile
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About 1 in 54 People Will Develop Skin Cancer

While the rates of cancer diagnoses and deaths continue to decline, the number of new cases and deaths is going up – the result of a growing, aging population.

About 1 in 54 people will develop melanoma (skin cancer) in their lifetime. Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer, and the type that causes the highest number of deaths. Most skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that 192,310 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2019, and invasive melanoma is projected to be the fifth most common cancer for both men and men this year.

Risk Factors for Developing Skin Cancer

As the weather warms and we spend more time outdoors, it is important to be aware of skin cancer risks and prevention. Every sunburn can increase your risk for developing skin cancer. But even short periods of time in the sun can damage your skin and potentially lead to skin cancer. 

Among the many risk factors for melanoma are fair skin and freckles, light hair, and eye color including blond or red hair and blue eyes. People who have a large number of ordinary moles and abnormal moles should look for changes in them, such as growing in size, changing color, or having irregular borders.

Also look for warts and other blemishes on the skin, especially those parts exposed to the sun. People with a family history or who have already experienced a non-melanoma skin cancer are also at higher risk.

Skin Cancer is Highly Preventable

Dr. Richard Arenas and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following to protect you and those you love from deadly UV radiation:
Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.

1. Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.

Clothing is an excellent barrier against the sun's UV rays. Protection from fabric coverings doesn't wear off (like sunscreen does over time). Look for clothing with a high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). A UPF of 50 blocks 98% of the sun's rays.

2. Wear a hat with a wide brim.

Experts recommend wearing a wide brim hat to shade your face, head, ears and neck.

3. Wear protective sunglasses.

Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.

4. Choose the right sunscreen. 

Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection. Even if you purchase sunscreen labeled "waterproof" or "water-resistant," be sure to reapply when you get out of the water. 

5. Avoid tanning beds.

Experts agree: even one time indoor tanning raises your risk for skin cancer. 

What Else Can You Do to Prevent Skin Cancer?

While skin cancer is mostly caused by UV rays, there are additional steps you can take to keep your skin healthy.

Eat as Healthy as You Can

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, antioxidants can help fight the cell damage caused by UV exposure. Studies favor eating foods containing antioxidants over supplements. 

Skin-friendly foods include:

  • Orange-colored vegetables and fruits: Carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and other orange foods contain beta carotene – which can reduce the risk of some cancers.
  • Red-colored foods: The organic pigment lycopene, found in tomatoes, watermelon, blood oranges, etc., can help protect against sun damage. 
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These nutrients can inhibit skin cancer progression, and are found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseed.
  • Vitamin E: This antioxidant can help prevent skin damage and can improve the skin's own protective abilities. Find it in almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, and more.

Learn more about how your diet can help prevent skin cancer, and more about eating the rainbow to maintain health

Check Your Skin Regularly

When detected early by your primary care provider or dermatologist or during recommended monthly self-exams, skin cancers are highly curable. Check your skin from head to toe for any new or changing lesions (abnormalities). See a dermatologist yearly for a professional skin exam, or talk with your primary care doctor about the best plan for you.

Prevent Skin Cancer This Summer

“Remember that all it takes is just a few blistering sunburns in our childhood to more than double our chances of developing a potentially deadly melanoma later in life. In fact, for a while now we have seen many more patients, especially women in their 20s and 30s, coming into our practice with melanoma and basal cell cancers,” said Dr. Arenas.

Learn more about skin cancer prevention and treatment from the Baystate Regional Cancer Program.

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