Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. Over 2 million cases are treated in the country each year—that’s more cases than breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer combined. In 2004, treatments for non-melanoma skin cancers alone cost $1.4 billion.
Although some skin cancer risk factors can’t be changed, there are a lot of ways to can protect yourself and reduce your risk. Just take care of yourself by following these prevention tips.
- Know your natural risk factors.
There are certain risk factors that are out of your control. For example, people with fairer skin are at higher risk than those with darker skin, and men are at greater risk than women. You’re also at greater risk if there is a history of skin cancer in your family, or if you’ve had skin cancer before yourself.
- Protect from UVs
One of the best ways to avoid getting skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. When you go outside, cover up with clothing and hats as much as you can.
Whatever skin isn’t covered, be sure to apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 for every day, and SPF 30 for extended periods outside. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after getting sweaty or wet.
- Stay in the shade
Even better than protecting yourself when you’re in the sun, just stay out of it whenever possible. This is especially important during the hours when the sun is the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you’re not sure how strong the sun is, just look at your shadow—if it’s taller than you are, get inside.
- Check your skin monthly
When a case of skin cancer is caught early, it can make a big difference in how serious it is and how easy it is to treat. A quick monthly self-check can help ensure you’re aware of any potential issues before they’re big problems.
All you need to check your own skin is a full-length mirror and a handheld mirror. Take your clothes off and check your skin all over your body, using the mirrors to check areas you can’t easily see on your own. If you find an abnormal mole or other mark, see a doctor.
- Get an annual checkup
Even if you don’t find any abnormalities in your self-checks, see a doctor once a year. The doctor will take a medical history, then check your body for signs of skin cancer and note the size, shape, color and texture of any areas in question. If a doctor suspects cancer, s/he may recommend further testing.
Prevention and Early Detection are Key
One in five Americans develops skin cancer at some point in their life, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. But if you follow these steps, you can significantly reduce your likelihood of being one of them. Even if you do develop skin cancer, following these tips will help you ensure you find it early and address it quickly.