Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, accounting for nearly half of all diagnosed cancers in the United States each year. In fact, there are an estimated 3.3 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers diagnosed annually. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, with one in 50 cases developing into melanoma.
While these are very serious statistics, too many people are still unaware of the causes of skin cancer and the measures you can take to decrease your risk for developing it.
Take the quiz: causes of skin cancer
True or false: If it’s cloudy, or in the winter time, there is less risk for me from the sun’s rays.
— FALSE. The sun’s rays go through the clouds, as well as through water. If you are outdoors, you should protect your skin by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing.
True or false: I have a dark complexion, so my risk of developing skin cancer is lower.
— FALSE. While it is true that people with fairer skin may be at a higher risk for skin cancer, having dark skin does not protect you from the sun or its effects.
True or false: UV rays are the only cause of skin cancer.
— FALSE. While the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, as well as UV rays from tanning beds, are the primary cause of damage to the skin that can lead to skin cancer, these rays are not the only risk factors. Other factors include a weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, someone who has received a significant number of X-rays, exposure to chemicals such as arsenic, coal or industrial tar, as well as smoking or chewing tobacco.
True or false: “Apply it and forget it” is bad advice when it comes to sunscreen.
— TRUE. Sunscreen works well, but only if you have applied enough of it onto your skin throughout the time you are exposed. You should apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before you are exposed to the sun, and re-apply it at least every two hours that you are in the sun, especially if you have been swimming, running or sweating.
True or false: Tanning protects my skin from cancer.
— FALSE. Tanning can cause damage to your skin’s DNA. The darkening of your skin is your body’s attempt to prevent further DNA damage. Such changes to your skin may lead to skin cancer.