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Sun Safety: Highlighting Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Did you know that May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month? Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. — it’s estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Skin Cancer Awareness Month is devoted to highlighting skin cancer, educating people on how to check themselves for signs of skin cancer, and sharing ways to protect skin from the sun. 

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Skin cancer can impact anyone, and it’s estimated that 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day in the U.S.1  

Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is responsible for a vast majority of skin cancer deaths and in the last 30 years, cases have been rising rapidly.2

Risk factors for all types of skin cancer include: 

  • Excess exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or use of indoor tanning
    • The majority of melanoma cases are attributable to UV exposure
  • Skin that burns easily; blonde or red hair; a history of excessive sun exposure, including sunburns; tanning bed use; a weakened immune system; and a history of skin cancer
  • People with more than 50 moles, atypical moles, or large moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma, as are sun-sensitive individuals

Skin Cancer Self-Exams

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) said half of melanomas are self-detected. Regular skin self-exams are encouraged for everyone, especially those with an increased risk of skin cancer. 

Skin cancer warning signs include changes in the shape, size, or color of a mole or other skin lesion. As well as any new growths or a sore that doesn’t heal. The AAD recommends seeing a board-certified dermatologist if you notice any spots that are different from others or anything changing, itching, or bleeding. 

The ABCDEs of Melanoma

The AAD said melanoma is highly treatable if it’s caught early. It can appear anywhere on the skin, even in areas that are usually protected by the sun and around or under a fingernail or toenail. 

One way to check your skin for signs of melanoma is by following the ABCDEs: 

  • A is for Asymmetry: One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
  • B is for Border: The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
  • C is for Color: The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown, or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.
  • D is for Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
  • E is for Evolving: The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.

Protecting Your Skin

To protect your skin when you’re outside, dermatologists recommend the following: 

  • Seek shade! The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
    • Tip: Look at your shadow – if it’s shorter than you, seek shade
  • Wear sun-protective clothing like lightweight long-sleeve shirts, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection 
  • Apply sunscreen, find one that offers broad-spectrum protection, is water resistant, and SPF 30 or higher 

Learn more about Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the importance of checking your skin by visiting the American Academy of Dermatology’s website

  1. “Skin Cancer,” n.d. ↩︎
  2. “May Is Skin Cancer Awareness Month,” n.d. ↩︎

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