Doctors cannot always explain why one person gets cancer and another does not. However, scientists have studied general patterns of cancer in the population to learn what things around us and what things we do in our lives may increase our chance of developing cancer.
Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor; anything that decreases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a protective factor. Some of the risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, although you can choose to quit smoking, you cannot choose which genes you have inherited from your parents. Both smoking and inheriting specific genes could be considered risk factors for certain kinds of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Prevention means avoiding the risk factors and increasing the protective factors that can be controlled so that the chance of developing cancer decreases.
Although many risk factors can be avoided, it is important to keep in mind that avoiding risk factors does not guarantee that you will not get cancer. Also, most people with a particular risk factor for cancer do not actually get the disease. Some people are more sensitive than others are to factors that can cause cancer. Talk to your doctor about methods of preventing cancer that might be effective for you.
Purposes of this summary
The purposes of this summary on skin cancer prevention are to:
- Give information on skin cancer and how often it occurs.
- Describe skin cancer prevention methods.
- Give current facts about which people or groups of people would most likely be helped by following skin cancer prevention methods.
You can talk to your doctor or health care professional about cancer prevention methods and whether they would be likely to help you.
Skin Cancer Prevention
The skin protects the body against heat and light, injury, and infection. It also helps regulate body temperature, stores water and fat, and produces vitamin D. The skin is the body's largest organ and is made up of two main layers: the outer epidermis and the inner dermis.
There are 3 types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (together referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancer), and melanoma. The outer layer of the skin is made up of squamous cells. Basal cells are found below the squamous cells. Melanocytes are in the deepest layer of epidermis. Melanoma develops from melanocytes.
Significance of skin cancer
Skin cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in the United States. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (nonmelanoma skin cancer) are the most common forms of skin cancer, but are easier to cure than melanoma. The number of new cases of skin cancer appears to be increasing each year. The number of deaths due to skin cancer, however, is fairly small.
Skin cancer prevention
Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer (Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma): Studies have suggested that reducing exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation decreases the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Ultraviolet radiation is a stream of invisible high-energy rays coming from the sun. Artificial sources such as tanning booths and sunlamps also produce ultraviolet radiation.
Sun exposure can be reduced by changing patterns of outdoor activities to reduce time of exposure to high-intensity UV radiation (the sun is strongest from 11 am to 3 pm), wearing protective clothing (such as long sleeves and hats) when exposed to sunlight, and by using adequate amounts of sufficiently protective sunscreen.
It is not known whether using sunscreen lowers the risk of either squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma.
People whose skin tans poorly or burns easily after sun exposure are particularly susceptible to nonmelanoma skin cancer. These people in particular may benefit by following prevention methods for nonmelanoma skin cancer.
Melanoma: It is not known if avoiding sunburns reduces a person's chance of developing melanoma skin cancer.
Sunburn can be avoided by changing patterns of outdoor activities to reduce time of exposure to high-intensity UV radiation (the sun is strongest from 11 am to 3 pm), wearing protective clothing (such as long sleeves and hats) when exposed to sunlight, and using sunscreen.
Sunscreen is not a substitute for avoidance of sun exposure.
People whose skin tans poorly or who have a large number of abnormal moles may have an increased risk of developing melanoma skin cancer. These people in particular may benefit by following prevention methods for melanoma.