Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Every year in New York City, nearly 1,000 people are diagnosed with the most serious form of skin cancer — melanoma. About one in 10 people with melanoma die from the disease.

Skin cancer can affect men and women of any age and any racial or ethnic group. 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 cancers. 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

Prevention and Screening

Here are some tips for 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 with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Do not use indoor tanning.

When to See Your Health Care Provider

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?

In general, if you notice any changes in your skin, you should discuss them with your health care provider.

If you are not showing any signs or symptoms of skin cancer, the Health Department does not recommend you get screened.

Additional Resources

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