Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The most dangerous type of skin cancer, melanoma, causes most skin cancer deaths.

Every year in New York City, over 100 people die from melanoma and nearly 1,000 people are newly diagnosed. Skin cancer can affect men and women of any age and any racial or ethnic group, including people with darker skin. White people are more likely to get skin cancer and die from it than other racial/ethnic groups.

It is important to know how to protect yourself from skin cancer. Prevention and early detection are the best ways to keep skin cancer from harming you.

Risk Factors

The top risk factor for most types of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure. Sources of UV rays include sunlight and indoor tanning. UV rays can cause abnormal skin cell growth, which leads to skin cancer. People who get a lot of UV exposure have a greater risk of skin cancer.

You also may be more at risk for skin cancer if you have:

  • A light natural skin color
  • A family or personal history of skin cancer
  • Extended exposure to the sun over a long period of time
  • Experienced sunburns, especially early in life
  • Used indoor tanning
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blond or red hair
  • Certain types of moles, or a large number of them

Reducing Your Risk

Here are some tips to lower your risk of skin cancer by avoiding harmful UV rays:

  • Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use sunscreen that has both UVA and UVB protection, as well as a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
  • Do not use indoor tanning.

Screening

A skin cancer screening is a simple visual check that can be done by your health care provider. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not have a recommendation either for or against skin cancer screening. Talk to your provider about your risk for skin cancer and what they recommend for you.

A mole on your body can be a warning sign of melanoma. The following ABCDE rule can help you know more about the warning signs of melanoma:

  • A = Asymmetry. Does one half of the mole look different than the other half?
  • B = Borders. Are the mole's edges ragged or not clearly defined?
  • C = Color. Is the mole multicolored?
  • D = Diameter. From edge to edge, is the mole larger than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser)?
  • E = Evolving. Has the mole’s size, shape or color changed?

Not all melanomas will have all of these characteristics. In general, if you notice any changes in your skin, discuss them with your health care provider.

Payment

If you do not have insurance, you may be eligible to sign up for low- or no-cost coverage. You can also get free in-person assistance signing up for a plan.

Additional Resources

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