What you need to know about skin cancer and how to prevent it, according to a doctor

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Skin cancer is by far the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

As summer approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s time to consult CNN wellness expert and emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen about the dangers of skin cancer and the need to safe sun exposure.

As summer approaches, what should we know about the risk of developing skin cancer? And how do you know if a mole or skin discoloration needs to be examined? Which healthcare provider should you contact if you have a problem? Should people have full-body skin cancer screenings? Are self-exams useful?

Wen has some answers for us, as well as steps everyone can take to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. An emergency physician and adjunct associate professor at George Washington University, she previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner.

CNN: I was surprised to learn that skin cancer is so common. What are the main forms of skin cancer?

Dr. Leana Wen: There are three main forms of skin cancer. The most common type is called basal cell carcinoma. These cancers may look like a raised, clear bump on the skin and most often occur on the head, neck, and other areas most exposed to the sun. Although these cancers usually grow slowly, they can spread deep and damage nerves and bones.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. These often look like a red bump and can appear as a sore or sore that heals and then reopens. These also tend to appear in areas frequently exposed to the sun and can also appear on the lips and ears. They can extend deep and spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is the third type that is essential to know about. Indeed, even if it only represents 1% of total cancers, it is the cause of the majority of deaths due to skin cancer. In the United States, in 2024, more than 8,000 people will die from this cancer each year.

Melanoma can develop within an existing mole or as a new dark spot on the skin. There is also an association with sun exposure and melanoma. According to the American Cancer Society, although the risk of melanoma increases with age, it is one of the most common cancers among young adults.

Anastasiia Stiahailo/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Routine self-exams can help in the early detection of skin cancer.

CNN: How do you know if a mole or skin discoloration needs to be examined by a healthcare professional?

Magnifying glass: There is an “ABCDE” rule that describes the warning signs that could mean melanoma. A means asymmetry, if the shape of one half of the mole does not match the other. B is for border. A mole with fuzzy, irregular edges could be cause for concern. C for color, that is, a mole that has several colors and shades. D is for diameter. Some melanomas can be very small, but most are larger than 6 millimeters, or about ¼ inch wide. E stands for changing, which means the mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.

Anyone who notices these features of a mole should have it examined. Additionally, people who notice a new growth, a spot or bump that increases in size over time, skin discoloration that causes discomfort, or a sore that does not improve should also seek medical attention.

CNN: Should people make an appointment with a dermatologist? What if they don’t have one?

Magnifying glass: Those who have a dermatologist should contact that person first. Sometimes a referral from a primary care provider may be necessary.

People who experience worrying signs that may suggest melanoma should clearly state the reason – that they have a change in the size or color of a mole, for example, and that they are concerned about breast cancer. skin.

CNN: Is it recommended that everyone get regular skin cancer screenings?

Magnifying glass: The influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a recommendation in 2023 that there is insufficient evidence to weigh the benefits versus risks of regular visual skin examination as a method of screening for skin cancer .

It is important to note that this is the general recommendation for people who are at average risk for skin cancer and do not have suspicious moles or spots. People who notice new, concerning skin changes should be sure to contact their doctor immediately.

Additionally, people at increased risk of skin cancer should ask a dermatologist whether they should have regular skin exams. These are carried out by visual inspection by the doctor, which means that the doctor examines the entire body. Some moles may be removed for a biopsy to determine if they are cancerous.

CNN: What factors put a person at higher risk for skin cancer?

Magnifying glass: One of the main factors is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. People who are extensively exposed to the sun, have a history of sunburn, and use a tanning bed are at high risk. Age is also a risk factor; the longer a person is exposed to UV, the higher their risk. People with 50 or more moles are also at higher risk, as are people with fair complexions.

There are also specific risk factors related to personal and family medical history. These include a personal or family history of skin cancer, a history of precancerous lesions such as actinic keratoses, certain genetic disorders such as xeroderma pigmentosum, and a history of immunosuppression. People with risk factors, or who are unsure, should contact their doctor to develop a screening plan.

CNN: What about self-exams? Can these be useful?

Magnifying glass: Yes. It’s a good idea for everyone to check their skin for moles. Look for ABCDE warning signs as well as any new spots or sores that cause itching, tenderness or pain.

People should also consider checking everywhere on their body. Although skin cancer is more likely in areas exposed to the sun, other locations are also possible, including the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and genital areas.

A good time to check is when you take a shower, bath, change clothes, or apply lotion. You can also ask a family member or friend for help, especially in hard-to-see areas like the scalp.

CNN: What steps can you take to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer?

Wen: Reducing UV exposure is a crucial step that everyone can take. This means, when possible, staying in the shade; wear clothing that covers your arms and legs; wear a hat that covers the face, head, ears and neck; and regularly using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.

You can turn to the Environmental Working Group’s excellent resource on choosing sunscreens that I use and recommend to everyone to find an effective sunscreen that suits your lifestyle, budget, and your personal preferences.

People should keep in mind that UV rays penetrate and can cause damage not only in summer but throughout the year. Additionally, UV is not only present on sunny days, but also on cloudy days, and the rays can reflect off surfaces like snow, sand, and water. And it’s not just fair-skinned people who can get skin cancer; People of all colors, including those with brown and black skin, can develop skin cancer.

Finally, I strongly urge people not to use indoor tanning beds. These expose users to high levels of UV rays and increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

News Source :
Gn Health

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