Can Skin Cancer Be Prevented?

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. - around 9,500 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed daily. It’s so common that one in five Americans¹ will have been diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.

It’s not all bad news, though. Skin cancer is easily preventable, and there are many ways that you can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Read on for top tips on skin cancer prevention.

Have you considered clinical trials for Skin cancer?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Skin cancer, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the abnormal or unregulated growth of skin cells. There are two main types of skin cancer: melanomas and non-melanoma skin cancers. The non-melanoma skin cancers can be divided into basal cell carcinomas (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC).

Skin cancers are usually named according to the cells in which they originate. Melanomas have their origin in melanocytes, which are the melanin-producing cells of the skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color. BCCs develop in the basal cells and SCCs in the squamous cells.

How to prevent skin cancer

Be sun safe

Approximately 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86% of melanomas² are caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. UV rays cause damage to skin cells, which can trigger cancerous changes.

You can limit the damage caused by the sun by following sun safety guidelines.

UV rays are strongest between 9am and 3pm, so if possible, stay out of the sun during this time. If you do need to be outside, try to ensure that you stay in the shade as much as possible.

The UV index gives an indication of how strong the sun’s rays are. This is important because UV rays can be strong even on a cloudy day. Whenever the UV index is above three, you should take sun safe precautions.

Sun safe tips include:

  • Stay in the shade whenever possible

  • Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs

  • Wear a wide-brimmed sun hat that provides cover for your face, ears, and neck

  • Wear sunglasses that have a UV filter

  • Wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) greater than 15

Wear sunscreen

Although sunscreen has been mentioned in the sun safety tips, it’s worth mentioning again all on its own, as there’s a lot of misinformation around sunscreen.

Things to know about sunscreen are:

  • Sunscreen is safe and non-toxic³.

  • Sunscreen does expire, so check the expiry date on your sunscreen. Sunscreen past its expiry date may not provide the protection that it’s supposed to.

  • You should use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15⁴. Some organizations recommend a minimum SPF of 30⁵.

  • Sunscreen should not be used in infants under six months. Infants under six months of age should not be taken into direct sunlight during peak sun exposure times.

  • Make sure that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays.

  • Some sunscreens have been shown to cause damage to coral reefs, so if you are concerned about protecting the environment, choose a sunscreen that doesn’t contain oxybenzone (check the ingredient list: sunscreen in the U.S. is required to list ingredients). Some sunscreens now will state on the bottle whether they are environmentally friendly.

  • Layering sunscreens with different SPFs don’t have an additive effect. If you apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 and layer it with a sunscreen of SPF 30, it doesn’t mean your SPF is 45.

How to apply sunscreen

Sunscreen should be reapplied regularly. Check the recommendations on your particular sunscreen bottle, but generally, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours.

Sunscreen should also be reapplied after swimming, exercising, showering, or toweling off.

Cover up

If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers/skirts when outside. Some fabrics are certified under international standards as offering UV protection. The tighter the knit of the fabric, the more protection it offers. Dry versus wet clothes and darker versus lighter colors may also offer increased protection⁶.

Whenever you are outdoors, try to wear a wide-brimmed sun hat that covers your face, ears, and neck. Avoid straw hats or hats made of loosely woven fabric, as they can allow UV radiation through.

Activities to avoid

Indoor tanning: There is a very strong link between the use of indoor tanning devices (tanning beds) and skin cancer⁷. Indoor tanning devices emit UV radiation that is 10–15 times higher than UV radiation emitted by the sun. More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to the use of tanning beds.

Sun tanning: According to the FDA⁸, there is no such thing as a “safe tan”. The darkening in color of your skin that happens with sun exposure is due to an increase in melanin, and it means that there has been sun damage to your skin cells.

Sun exposure during peak times: Try to plan your outdoor activities for before 9am or after 3pm, when the sun’s radiation is less severe.

Do certain skincare products or supplements prevent skin cancer?

Many different supplements and skincare products have been touted as being beneficial in preventing skin cancer; however, few (apart from sunscreen) have any real proven benefit. Let’s take a look at the evidence:

Nicotinamide: Oral nicotinamide (a form of vitamin B3) was shown in one study⁹ to help prevent the development of new skin cancers in at-risk patients who had a previous history of skin cancer. This is a cheap and safe option for you to take if you are at high risk of developing skin cancer.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS): NSAIDS have been shown to decrease some forms of skin cancer¹⁰; however, NSAIDS have many side effects and are not generally considered safe to be taken on an ongoing basis.

Oral polypodium leucotomos: Polypodium leucotomos is a plant extract that has shown¹¹ some potential in limiting free radical damage to the skin from the sun; however, further research needs to be done to confirm these findings.

The following have NOT been found to be effective¹² in preventing skin cancer: beta carotene, selenium, and alpha-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO). Isotretinoin has been found to help prevent skin cancer only in people with xeroderma pigmentosum.

Can your diet prevent skin cancer?

There are no specific foods that have been proven to prevent skin cancer; however, making sure that your diet contains a mixture of different colored fruits and vegetables may help to protect your skin from oxidative damage¹³.

We know that fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, which protect against free radical damage to your skin.

Screening for skin cancer

One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t develop life-threatening skin cancer is to make sure that you catch any suspicious lesions early. This entails regularly checking your skin for abnormal lesions.

You may find it helpful to take serial photographs of moles that you are concerned about. If the photographs show changes in the moles, it’s time to see your dermatologist.

If you are at high risk of skin cancer, then you may want to schedule regular screening checks with your doctor or dermatologist.

Understand your level of risk by knowing more about what causes skin cancer.

Have you considered clinical trials for Skin cancer?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Skin cancer, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

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