Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, and it’s the most preventable cancer. Most skin cancer is caused by damage from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV rays).

Each year, more than 96,400 people will be diagnosed with melanoma—the most dangerous type of skin cancer—and about 7,200 will die of the disease. In addition, it is estimated that more than three million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer annually—either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.

Protecting your skin during your first 18 years can reduce your risk of some types of skin cancer by up to 78%.

Recent research on the benefits of vitamin D (made by the skin from sunlight) indicates that just a brief exposure of your face, arms and hands to the sun is sufficient—about 15 minutes a day, three days per week. Talk to your health care professional about vitamin D and your health.

People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but some general risk factors are having—

  • A lighter natural skin color.
  • Family history of skin cancer.
  • A personal history of skin cancer.
  • Exposure to the sun through work and play.
  • A history of sunburns, especially early in life.
  • A history of indoor tanning.
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
  • Blue, gray or green eyes.
  • Blond, red or light brown hair.
  • Certain types and a large number of moles.
  • History of being treated with radiation. 

A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Not all skin cancers look the same.

A simple way to remember the signs of melanoma is to remember the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma

  • “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
  • “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
  • “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
  • “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  • “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma.

Protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach. UV rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow. Indoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp to get tan) exposes users to UV radiation.

The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Daylight Saving Time (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time) are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors in the continental United States. UV rays from sunlight are the greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America.

CDC recommends easy options for protection from UV radiation—

  • Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.
  • Avoid indoor tanning.
  • Examine your skin once a month. Tell your health care professional a bout skin changes. 

For details about these options, see Save Your Skin.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has concluded there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against routine screening (total body examination by a doctor) to find skin cancers early. This recommendation is for people who do not have a history of skin cancer and who do not have any suspicious moles or other spots. Report any unusual moles or changes in your skin to your doctor. Also talk to your doctor if you are at increased risk of skin cancer.

For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute’s Skin Cancer Screening PDQ® page



News | Aug 15, 2019Preventing cancer at the Iowa State Fair
Document | May 24, 2019Americans Reminded to Enjoy the Sun Safely this Summer
News | May 8, 2019A picture can save a life: Danielle’s story
News | Feb 14, 2019#CheckYourM8 to make Valentine’s great ❤
News | Feb 4, 2019The chance encounter that saved my life
News | Jan 18, 2019Invest in Your Health – WTOP interviews Carolyn Aldige and Dr. Jim Mulshine of the Prevent Cancer Foundation
News | Nov 28, 2018My summer project
News | Oct 16, 2018Department of Defense to fund $10 million for melanoma research
News | Jul 16, 2018The best life hack? Wear sunscreen.
News | Jul 3, 2018Food, fun, and family – healthy 4th of July tips
News | Jun 19, 2018Keep your kids safe in the sun
News | Jun 14, 2018No, ‘sunscreen pills’ cannot protect you from skin cancer
News | May 23, 2018Protect your skin all summer long
News | Apr 18, 2018“Check Your Mate” seminar
News | Jun 30, 2017ICYMI: June 30, 2017
News | Jun 23, 2017ICYMI: June 23, 2017
News | Jun 16, 2017ICYMI: June 16, 2017
News | May 26, 2017Power. Progress. Prevention. May 26, 2017
News | May 24, 2017What to pack for your Memorial Day weekend getaway: Skin protection edition
News | May 19, 2017ICYMI: May 19, 2017
News | May 10, 2017The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention encourages everyone to protect your skin today and every day
News | Feb 17, 2017ICYMI: February 17, 2017
News | Jan 27, 2017ICYMI: January 27, 2017
News | Oct 28, 2016ICYMI: October 28, 2016
News | Sep 29, 2016Cancer Prevention Leaders Honored at the 24th Annual Congressional Families Awards Luncheon
News | Sep 23, 2016ICYMI: September 23, 2016
News | Aug 5, 2016ICYMI: August 5, 2016
News | Jul 29, 2016ICYMI: July 29, 2016
News | Jul 15, 2016ICYMI: July 15, 2016
News | Jul 8, 2016ICYMI: July 8, 2016
News | Jun 17, 2016ICYMI: June 17, 2016
News | Jun 2, 2016Reducing the Risk of Skin Cancer in Kidney Transplant Recipients
News | Mar 18, 2016ICYMI: March 18, 2016
News | Mar 11, 2016ICYMI: March 11, 2016
News | Feb 12, 2016Check Your Mate on Valentine’s Day
News | Feb 12, 2016ICYMI: February 12, 2016

Join now to keep up with the latest in cancer prevention and early detection