Do you know how to protect yourself from skin cancer?

Paul Mosca, MD, PhD
Surgical oncologist, Duke Cancer Center/Durham Regional Hospital

While you’re soaking up the sun this summer, remember to take precautions to protect your skin.

A study published in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed over the past 40 years rates of melanoma—an aggressive type of skin cancer—have increased eight-fold among women and four-fold among men ages 18 to 39.

The study authors believe tanning beds may be the reason for this dramatic increase, in part because young women frequent tanning salons more than young men. Fortunately, the survival rate typically exceeds 90 percent when melanoma is detected early.

Other risk factors for melanoma include

  • fair skin
  • family history
  • genetic predisposition
  • heavy freckling
  • high mole count
  • immunosuppression
  • prior history of melanoma

Mother applying sunscreen to her daughterTo reduce your risk of developing melanoma, avoid tanning beds and protect your skin from sunlight. Wear protective clothing when outside, and use sunscreen on any exposed areas.

In addition, the American Cancer Society suggests performing regular self-exams of your skin. If you notice any of the following, see a health professional.

  • Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
  • Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or there may be patches of pink, red, white or blue.
  • Diameter: The spot is larger than about ¼ inch (the size of a pencil eraser), but melanomas can be smaller than this.

If your physician agrees the spot looks suspicious, you will likely undergo a simple biopsy to test for melanoma and other skin cancers. Early melanoma is treated with surgery. More advanced cases may require chemotherapy, immunotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, and/or other treatments. Every patient should receive individualized, compassionate care by an expert multi-disciplinary team.

For a free sun protection brochure, visit

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