Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer and affects about 5 million people in the United States each year. Skin cancer is so common that there are more new cases each year than breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancer combined. The three different types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. It is important to know how to recognize the early warning signs, as well as know what steps you can take to prevent the disease.

In order to detect skin cancer early, it is important to watch for signs of concern:

  • New skin growths that may vary in color: tan, brown, black, or even clear
  • Existent marks on skin (moles, birth marks) that change in color, size, shape, or texture
  • New moles and birth marks that appear after the age of 21
  • Birth marks, moles, or skin growths that cause pain
  • Sores that are painful, itchy, scab like, bloody, or do not heal in three weeks

If you notice any of these signs it is important to have them checked by a doctor who specializes in skin diseases as soon as possible.

Prevention is the simplest way to ease worries about developing skin cancer. Basic prevention includes limiting your skins exposure to both natural and artificial ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). There are two different types of UV rays:

  • UVA is less intense but more prevalent than UVB rays. These rays are the primary rays emitted in tanning booths and the most damaging because they penetrate the skin much more deeply.
  • UVB is more intense but less deeply penetrating. UVB rays are the primary cause of skin redness associated with sunburns.

Steps you can take to limit your exposure to UV rays include reducing the number of hours you spend in direct sunlight, using a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection (broad spectrum), staying away from tanning booths, and wearing clothing that protects skin from sun exposure. It is also important to conduct monthly self-examinations to look for any skin abnormalities.


Jaime Venditti, State Coordinator, New York Health Works