Staying Safe in the Sun: Detecting Skin Cancer

Summer is here, which means outdoor fun. Spending time outside, especially during the summer, can amount to a lot of sunlight exposure. Vitamin D is certainly important, but too much sunlight and exposure to UV rays can damage the skin and cause cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of the disease, affecting millions of Americans every year.

Types of Skin Cancer

There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of the disease that accounts for over 90% of all reported cases of skin cancer, is found mostly on the face and other sun-exposed parts of the body (although it can be found in other areas such as legs, arms or the scalp). Signs of it include a small, pink, brown or black skin growth or bump with visible blood vessels. Treatment is easy if caught early.

Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, may appear as a small, scaly red growth, forming on sun-exposed skin. This type of cancer can metastasize to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat.

Melanoma, the most malignant type of skin cancer, occurs when pigment-producing cells become cancerous. A helpful tool in figuring out whether you may have melanoma is the ABCDE Rule:

  • “A” for asymmetry. While examining a mole or lesion, take notice as to whether one half looks different than the other. If it is asymmetrical, there is a possible risk.
  • “B” for border. If the border of the mole is blurred or undefined, that could signal melanoma.
  • “C” for color. Any color other than brown could be a cause for concern.
  • “D” for diameter. In most cases a mole should not be more than a ½ inch to an inch in size.
  • “E” for evolving. Monitor the skin lesion for changes in size, shape or color.

Self-Examination of the Skin

Conducting skin self-exams is important because anyone can develop skin cancer. Go into a well-lit room and use a mirror to help look at parts of your skin that are hard to see such as your head, neck and back. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in every three cases of melanoma in men occurs on the back. Pay special attention to moles, freckles and other skin lesions, and document them on a monthly basis. Any spots that develop, change, or evolve should be reported to a doctor.

Visiting the Doctor

If you have pale or fair skin, burn easily or have a family history of skin cancer, you have a much higher risk of developing some form of the disease. Consider meeting with your primary doctor or a dermatologist to not only review the risk factors, but to have a full body examination. For an entire list of risk factors, click here.


There are some ways to help lower your risk of skin cancer:

  • Stay in the shade between 10am and 4pm
  • Avoid tanning beds
  • Apply sunscreen daily that has an SPF of at least 15
  • Cover up and wear protective clothing
  • Check your skin regularly

For more information on how to prevent skin damage from the sun, visit Mayo Clinic’s website here.

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