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What You May Have Forgotten About Skin Cancer Prevention

Jul 15 2021
3 min read
Close-up of a woman from the side wearing a sunhat that is casting a shadow on her face.

Wear sunscreen to the all-day Fourth of July barbeque. Duck under the umbrella during peak sunshine hours. Avoid tanning beds.

These skin cancer prevention tips are valuable enough to repeat, but they’re undoubtedly not new to you. Still, despite what we know about heading off this disease, more than a million Americans are diagnosed with it each year—many of whom might have thought they were already doing all they could to protect themselves.

With that in mind, it’s worth taking note of your own notions about skin cancer. Too often, health-conscious people who are diligent about stocking up on sunscreen once the weather turns warm forget about these key truths about prevention:

Suncreen is Not Just For the Beach

An SPF-emblazoned bottle is as indicative of a summer vacation as a cooler and swimsuit. But your skin soaks in UV rays year-round every time you walk in the park, sit in traffic or stroll through the flea market on a lazy Sunday afternoon. If you haven’t already, start making daily sunscreen use a part of your everyday wellness routine. Smart Sunscreen Use delves into common questions about these products, including those related to SPF levels and expiration dates.

It's Not All About UV Rays

Though sun exposure is the leading reason people develop skin cancer, a family or personal history of cancer, the natural presence of moles, a weakened immune system and exposure to certain environmental toxins (like arsenic and coal tar) also factor into your risk. The value of checks, then—even if you’re the picture of sun protection—can’t be overstated.

Your primary care doctor or dermatologist can assess your skin for new or suspicious moles or growths, and the American Academy of Dermatology offers free skin cancer screenings at events throughout the country. How often you should get them depends on your personal health history, so ask your physician.

Skin Cancer Can Hide

Monthly self-checks are also recommended, but that doesn’t mean just taking a close look at your arms, legs and other areas of skin you can easily see. Try your best to also look between your toes, under your arms, on your scalp and at your buttocks and genital area—spots where skin cancer can often begin and grow unnoticed.

A bright room and a large mirror (or a partner) can help. Keep an eye out for blemishes, bumps, new moles or ones that have changed in size, texture, color or shape. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual.