Three Things You May Not Know About Skin Cancer

Three Things You May Not Know About Skin Cancer

Three Things You May Not Know About Skin Cancer

Even though skin cancer is the most common cancer, many people don’t think they’re at risk. But everyone needs to protect their skin and pay attention to any changes.

Protect Your Skin

To protect your skin, you need to know the risks. Many people know some of what they need to do to stay safe. But there are common misconceptions that can increase your risk. You may not know these three key facts.

1. People of any age can get it. You don’t have to be older or have had a lot of exposure to the sun to get skin cancer, says M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. leaving site icon More exposure to UV rays does increase your risk, but you can get it even without years of exposure. Melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, is the most common form of cancer in young adults (25 to 29) and the second most common form in people 15 to 29 years old. And sun exposure at a young age raises the risk for getting skin cancer later in life. Protecting your skin is a lifelong job, starting with childhood.

2. You don’t have to have light colored skin to get it. Skin cancer is more common in lighter skinned people, but death rates for skin cancer are higher in darker skinned people. That’s likely because it’s caught much later. People of all skin tones need to protect their skin and be aware of their risks. And everyone needs to pay close attention to changes in their skin. Get any areas of concern checked out right away.

3. You need sunscreen year-round. You shouldn’t skip the sunscreen just because it isn’t sunny or hot. Harmful UV rays don’t take a break in the cooler months. And UV rays can cause skin damage through clouds.

Cut Your Risk

The best way to stay safe is to prevent skin cancer. Here’s what to do to cut your risk.

First, remember that protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is vital all the time. But it’s good to be extra careful when you’re outdoors a lot, such as those long summer days.

Second, know that the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the late spring and summer are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors in the U.S.

Easy choices for protection:

  • Find shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing to cover your legs and arms.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim. Make sure it shades your neck and ears as well as your face.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Make sure it has both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid indoor tanning.
Catch Problems Early

If you do get skin cancer, it’s vital to catch it early, especially if you get melanoma. But all types of skin cancer are most easily treated when caught early. Talk to your doctor about what screening you might need for skin cancer.

And be on the lookout yourself for any changes. The Skin Cancer Foundation leaving site icon says self-exams are a key to early detection. Be sure to check the areas that don’t get direct sun exposure as well as the areas that do. What you’re looking for are changes on your skin:

  • Look for any new moles or growths.
  • Look for any older ones that have started to grow or change.
  • Look for a lesion that itches, bleeds or doesn’t heal.

Skin changes can happen at any time. If you find a new spot or one that’s changing, it's time to check in with your doctor.

Sources: 10 skin cancer myths debunked, leaving site icon MD Anderson Cancer Center, 2019; What You Need to Know About Early Signs of Skin Cancer, leaving site icon Skin Cancer Foundation, 2021; What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer?, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2023; Skin Cancer: Sun Safety, leaving site icon CDC, 2023