Skin Cancer: Prevention


Reducing exposure to UV radiation, particularly through sun exposure, lowers the risk of melanoma. This is important for all age groups, and it is especially important for people who have risk factors for melanoma.

Sun damage is cumulative, meaning it builds up over time. Steps to reduce sun exposure, avoid sunburn and help prevent many cases of melanoma include:

  • Limiting or avoiding sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
  • Wearing sun-protective clothing, including a hat that shades the face, neck and ears. Clothes made of fabric labeled with UPF (UV protection factor) may provide better protection. UV-protective sunglasses are also recommended.
  • Using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher throughout the year and reapplying it often, especially after heavy perspiration or being in the water.
  • Examining skin regularly (examinations by a healthcare professional and self-examinations)
  • Avoiding use of sun lamps, tanning beds and tanning salons.

The earlier melanoma is detected, the better the chance for successful treatment. Periodic self-examinations may help find melanoma early.

  • Self-examination should be performed in front of a full-length mirror. It helps to have another person check the scalp and back of the neck.
  • Examine the front and back of the entire body in a mirror, then the right and left sides, with arms raised.
  • Bend the elbows and look carefully at the outer and inner forearms, upper arms (especially the hard-to-see back portion) and hands.
  • Look at the front, sides and back of the legs and feet, including the soles and the spaces between the toes.
  • Part the hair to lift it and examine the back of the neck and scalp with a hand mirror.
  • Check the back, genital area and buttocks with a hand mirror.

A doctor should be consulted if you notice any of the following:

  • A growth on the skin that matches any feature on the above list.
  • New growth on the skin.
  • A suspicious change in an existing mole or spot.
  • An unusual sensation in a mole, such as itching or tingling.
  • A sore that doesn’t heal within two weeks.

Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape or color of an existing mole. It also may appear as a new or abnormal-looking mole. The ABCDE rule can be used to help remember what to watch for:

  • Assymetry The shape of one half of the mole does not match the other.
  • Border The edges are ragged, notched or blurred.
  • Color The color is often uneven. Shades of black, brown and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red or blue may also be seen.
  • Diameter The diameter is usually larger than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) or has grown in size.
  • Evolving The mole has been changing in size, shape, color, appearance or growing in an area of previously normal skin. Also, when melanoma develops in an existing mole, the texture of the mole may change and become hard, lumpy or scaly. Although the skin may feel different and may itch, ooze or bleed, melanoma usually does not cause pain.