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How Can I Prevent or Detect Skin Cancer?

How Can I Prevent or Detect Skin Cancer?

Teen girl wearing a wide-brimmed hat and spraying sunscreen on her arm
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and applying sunscreen every two hours are just two ways to prevent skin cancer in people of all ages.

You may not be able to change your skin color or fix damaged skin. But you can take these steps to reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Reduce your exposure to sunlight.

Limiting your skin's exposure to sunlight reduces the amount of ultraviolet radiation your skin receives. This also reduces your chances of developing skin cancer. Try these tips.

  • Wear protective clothing. A wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants protect your skin from sunlight. Sunglasses protect your eyes.

  • Stay out of the sun during the brightest hours. Radiation from the sun is greatest when your shadow is shorter than you are, usually from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Use sunscreen. A broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher provides the best protection from the sun's harmful radiation. (Many doctors suggest using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.) Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going in the sun. Be sure to use enough to cover the surface you are protecting. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. If you've been in the water or been sweating, you may need to reapply sooner.

  • Protect your kids, too. Skin damage can also occur during childhood and adolescence. Help prevent skin cancer in children by following the same steps you take for yourself.

Get a complete skin exam.

A doctor or nurse can check your skin for possible problems. Often this can be part of your regular health checkup. If you don't have a doctor, check with your local hospital or health department. They may offer free skin cancer screening. Also, your doctor or nurse can show you how to check your skin yourself.

Know the symptoms of skin cancer.

Most skin cancers appear as a new growth or as a change in the size or color of old moles. These changes can happen slowly or rapidly. Some growths may appear as sores that never go away, or they may bleed.

The first symptom of melanoma is often a change in a mole, or the appearance of a new mole that has ABCD characteristics. These ABCD rules can help you tell if a mole might be cancer:

  • Asymmetry. One half of the mole does not match the other half.

  • Border irregularity. The edges of the mole are ragged or irregular.

  • Color. The mole has different colors in it. It may be tan, brown, black, red, or other colors. Or it may have areas that appear to have lost color.

  • Diameter. The mole is bigger than 6 millimeters, about the size of a pencil eraser. But some melanomas can be smaller than 6 millimeters.

If you have a mole with any of these traits, you should talk to your doctor immediately:

  • A mole changes in size, shape, or color. Some melanomas do not fit the ABCD rule described. They fit more of an "E," which stands for Evolving. Watch for any changes to the mole. If you find what you think is an irregular or changing mole, see your doctor immediately.

  • A mole itches or is tender.

  • A mole oozes, bleeds, or becomes crusty.

  • The edges of a mole are getting blurred or ragged.

  • The mole has gotten larger and more raised. 

Basal cell carcinoma may have one or more of these features.

  • A small, raised area of skin that is pink and shiny or pearly

  • A small, flat spot that may be a pale color or may be red and scaly

  • A spot that bleeds briefly, heals up and appears to have disappeared, but then begins to bleed again in a few weeks

  • A spot that grows slowly

Squamous cell carcinoma may have one or more of these features.

  • A rough bump that appears, then rapidly grows

  • Flat, red patches on the skin that are irregularly shaped. The patches may or may not bleed.

Although these are symptoms of skin cancer, they may also be caused by other, less serious problems. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor.

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Adult Diseases and Conditions
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  Skin Cancer
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