The greatest risk for developing all types of skin cancers comes from sunburns. People with fair skin and those who tend to burn easily are more at risk.
Other risk factors include:
Age. The longer a person's skin is exposed to the sun over time, the higher the risk of developing skin cancer.
Appearance. People who have red or blond hair, fair skin, freckles and blue or light-colored eyes are more at risk of developing skin cancer.
However, darker-skinned people and those who tan easily can still develop skin cancer as well as suffer other long-term effects of exposure to ultraviolet light, like dry skin and premature aging.
Climate. People who live in sunny climates are at an increased risk for skin cancer.
Geography. People who live in southern states are at higher risk.
Family history. A family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma, increases the risk.
Personal history. A person who develops skin cancer is at risk of developing the same cancer again in the same place or developing a new skin cancer somewhere else.
Employment. Working around coal tar, arsenic compounds, creosote, pitch and paraffin oil increases the risk of skin cancer.
Previous injuries. Someone who has traumatized skin, such as a major scar or burn, could be at higher risk of developing skin cancer in that region.
Actinic keratosis. A precancerous condition of thick, scaly patches of skin. It may also appear as a cracking or peeling lower lip that does not heal with lip balm.
Preventing Skin Cancer
The main way to avoid skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun's ultraviolet rays. There are several ways to do this. These include:
Stay indoors or avoid unnecessary sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest. When you are outside, remember that the shorter your shadow, the more damaging the sun's rays.
Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, depending on your skin type. SPF measures a sunscreen's protection against UVB rays only, so look for sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Apply a sunscreen as part of your daily routine. Do so generously for maximum protection, especially on body parts easily overlooked (i.e., lips, tops of ears, head, back of neck and hands and feet). Some moisturizers and foundation include sunscreen.
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going into the sun.
If you are perspiring or in the water, you must reapply sunscreen more often regardless of the instructions on the packaging.
Wear protective clothing (e.g., wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts and pants, sunglasses with UV protection).
Stay in the shade, and avoid reflective surfaces such as water, sand, snow and concrete. You can burn from indirect exposure to the sun.
Beware of cloudy days. You can still get burned.
Don't use sunlamps or tanning beds. There is no such thing as a safe tan.
MD Anderson's Screening Guidelines
Promptly show your doctor any:
Suspicious skin area
Change in a mole or freckle
How to Do a Skin Self-Exam
The best time to do a skin self-exam is after a shower or bath. Check your skin in a well-lighted room using a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror.
Begin by learning where your birthmarks, moles, blemishes and freckles are and what they usually look and feel like. Check for anything new, especially a change in size, shape, texture or color. Also notice any area of scaliness, itching, bleeding, tenderness or pain.
Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror, then raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
Bend your elbows and look carefully at your fingernails, palms, forearms (including the undersides) and upper arms.
Examine the back, front and sides of your legs. Also look between the buttocks and around the genital area.
Sit and closely examine your feet, including the toenails, the soles and the spaces between the toes.
By checking your skin regularly, you will become familiar with what is normal for you. It may be helpful to record the dates of your skin exams and to write notes about the way your skin looks. If you find anything unusual, see your doctor right away.