American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Sun Safety: Skin Cancer Fact Sheet

Mom and daughter at the beachSkin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

  • More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year.

  • The three types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.

Malignant melanoma causes more than 75% of all skin cancer deaths. 

Ultraviolet or UV Rays 

Many types of rays come from the sun, including heat rays, visible light and invisible UV light. Invisible UV light causes damage to the skin and eyes.

There are three types of UV rays that come from the sun - UVA, UVB and UVC. However, the only ones that reach the earth are UVA and UVB. UVB rays have shorter wavelengths and burn outer layers of the skin. UVA rays have longer wavelengths, penetrate deeper into the skin and weaken the skin's inner tissue. 

Consequences of Sun Exposure and Sunburns

  • One blistering sunburn doubles the chance of developing malignant melanoma in your lifetime.

  • UV rays cause premature aging of the skin, wrinkling and age spots.

  • Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are directly related to the amount of sun exposure you receive.

  • UV rays cause the development of cataracts, damage to the retina and snow blindness to unprotected eyes.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors 

Anyone can get skin cancer, but, according to experts, the risk is greater for people who:

  • Have fair skin; blond, red or light brown hair; blue, green or gray eyes

  • Freckles

  • Burn before tanning or burn easily and do not tan easily

  • Spend a lot of time outdoors

  • Have been previously treated for skin cancer

  • Have a family history of skin cancer

Tanning Booths 

It's a good idea to avoid tanning booths. UVA rays and UVB rays cause skin damage whether they are produced naturally from the sun or in some artificial form. The UVA rays that are emitted from the artificial ultraviolet light sources in tanning salons are actually two to three times more powerful than the UVA rays that are naturally emitted from the sun. 

Warning Signs of Skin Cancer

  • A skin abnormality that increases in size and appears multicolored, pink, red, black, brown, pearly, translucent or tan.

  • A mole that changes color, textures, grows, becomes irregular in shape or is bigger than a pencil eraser.

  • A spot or growth that continually itches, hurts, becomes crusty, scabs or bleeds.

  • An open sore that does not heal after four weeks or one that heals and reopens.

If you notice any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your doctor. If you don't have a physician, consider finding a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Using a whole-person approach to care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to assess the impact of environmental and lifestyle factors on your health. They are trained to listen and partner with their patients.

Sunscreen Facts

  • If you will be out in the sun for 10 minutes or more, you will benefit from sunscreen use.

  • Sunscreen and lip balm with broad spectrum protection and an SPF of 30 or more should be applied half an hour before going out into the sun so it can be absorbed by the skin.

  • Sunscreen should be applied liberally. If it is applied too lightly, the sunscreen may offer only a fraction of the protection.

  • Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming, perspiring or towel drying.

  • Sunscreen doesn't block all UV rays, so don't use sunscreen as a means of extending your time in the sun.

Preventive Measures

  • People should plan their outdoor activities to avoid the sun's strongest rays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Wear protective covering such as broad-brimmed hats, long-pants and long-sleeved shirts to reduce exposure whenever possible.

  • Wear sunglasses that provide 100% UVA and UVB ray protection.

  • Wear a sunscreen with a SPF 30 or more and reapply it according to manufacturer's directions.

  • Follow these steps even on cloudy days; clouds do not block UV rays.


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