With warmer weather and sunny skies on the horizon, it is important to remember that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Skin cancer can greatly affect quality of life, and it can be disfiguring and even deadly. There are approximately 5.4 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed annually. Luckily, Skin Cancer Awareness Month provides a great time  to educate everyone that skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, and is highly treatable when it is caught early.

Despite efforts to address skin cancer risk factors, such as inadequate sun protection and intentional tanning behaviors (like going to a tanning bed), skin cancer rates, including rates of melanoma, have continued to increase in the United States and worldwide. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths of all skin cancers, with nearly 9,000 people dying from it each year. 

Although there are genetic factors that can affect skin cancer risks, the most common types of skin cancer are strongly associated with exposure to UV radiation. As much as 90 percent of melanoma is estimated to be caused by UV exposure, and UV exposure is the most preventable cause of cancer.

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Dermatologist Sarah Cannon, M.D., of Tinton Falls states:  "Most skin cancers when caught and treated early are curable. It is important for everyone to get to know their skin. Regular monthly head-to-toe self examinations can aid in early detection of precancerous or cancerous changes of the skin. Warning signs to look for can be a spot that is new or changing, irregularly shaped, bleeding or scaling, asymmetric, multicolored or stands out from the rest. Especially with risk factors such as fair skin, family history of skin cancers, personal history of atypical moles, or  a history of sunburns, yearly skin examinations by a dermatologist are a good way to monitor for any concerning lesions as well as address many other skin issues. "

So what can we do to prevent skin cancer? The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines have always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to protect against UV radiation. Sunscreen alone is not enough, however. Here are some more skin cancer prevention tips from the CDC:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreen should be used on babies over the age of six months.

Dr Cannon reminds us, "for the best care of your skin, start and maintain a routine of regular checks of your skin with daily sun protection and maintain a general awareness of what your skin looks like. Enjoy the summe,r but in a safe way and be sure to check with a dermatologist for any concerns you may have."