As summer approaches, people begin spending more time outdoors. This additional sun exposure brings with it the dangers of painful sunburns or, even worse, an increased risk of developing skin cancer. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. Although there are many types of skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed are basal and squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma. Studies have identified certain risk factors associated with these skin cancers, including light-colored skin and eyes, frequent sun exposure, and a family history of the disease. These factors, however, are not the only indicators of increased risk. Researchers have identified a correlation between chronic diseases such as Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, specifically Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and other immune-suppressing conditions with higher occurrences of some skin cancers. They also discovered that skin conditions like psoriasis and acute dermatitis have been linked to increased diagnoses due to compromised skin from UV light therapy or medication side effects.

Regardless of your risk, preventative measures and early detection are important tools for avoiding skin cancer. The American Cancer Society outlines some easy strategies you can use to enjoy the sun safely and responsibly.

UV Protection

Because sunlight is the primary source for cancer-causing UV rays, it’s important to utilize protective measures when spending time outdoors. One of the easiest ways to shield your skin from the effects of the sun is seek shade during the middle of the day when UV light is strongest. When avoiding the sun isn’t possible, an easy option for UV protection is to cover as much of your body as possible with clothing. Opt for thick woven fabrics for shirts and pants. Because this option is more practical in the fall and winter months, some companies have created lightweight, UV protectant clothing that can be worn comfortably during the hot summer months. These clothing options are labeled with a UV protection factor (UPF) value ranging from 15 to 50+; the higher the UPF value, the more protection the clothing offers against damaging UV rays. Hats and sunglasses should be worn while spending time outdoors to protect delicate areas like your scalp, face, and eyes.

In addition to these sun protection options, maintaining a thorough sunscreen application regimen year round is important for reducing the risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen helps to protect your skin from the sun, but it isn’t a bulletproof method for blocking all UV rays or warding off skin cancer. Sunscreens labeled with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating only block UVB rays. If applied correctly, these sunscreens can be effective at protecting skin against sunburn; however, only sunscreens labeled as “broad spectrum” can help prevent skin cancer because the chemicals in the formula protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. For the most protection, choose a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and apply liberally every two hours or per the brand recommendations.

Careful Monitoring

Even when using careful sun protection strategies, you have to be diligent about monitoring for signs and symptoms of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that you preform monthly skin self-examinations and offers step-by-step instructions as well as information about what to look for during the exam. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers a downloadable body map for you to monitor changes to your skin. If preformed thoroughly and regularly, self-examinations are an effective method for discovering early signs of skin cancer; however, annual examinations by your primary physician or dermatologist are still recommended, especially if there’s a personal or family history of skin cancer or an increased risk due to another chronic condition. 

The American Cancer Society recommends the Slip! Slop! Slap! Wrap! sun protection method to make UV protection strategies easy to remember.

SLIP on a shirt or protective clothing.

SLOP on sunscreen.

SLAP on a hat.

WRAP on sunglasses.

Resources

The American Cancer Society—Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

Dermatology Times—Psoriasis and skin cancer

Patient Power—Are Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Patients at a Higher Risk for Skin Cancer or Other Secondary Cancers?

Skin Cancer Foundation—Early Detection and Self Exams