Skin Cancer Prevention and Diagnosis

Skin Cancer Prevention and Diagnosis

Skin Cancer Prevention and Diagnosis

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. With summer on the horizon, protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays is especially important.

You should especially take precautions if you have fair skin, freckles or a history of skin cancer. However, anyone can be at risk for skin cancer regardless of medical history and skin tone.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher. You should apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or exercise.

Using sunscreen is important, but it is not the only way you should protect your skin.

Additional steps you should take to prevent skin cancer include:

  • Avoid tanning. This includes in natural sunlight or tanning booths.
  • Stay in the shade. The sun’s rays are most harsh between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Check weather reports for the strength of UV rays daily and avoid sun exposure when the UV index is “high” or above.
  • Cover up. When exposed to the sun during peak UV periods, wear clothing that covers your head, arms and legs. Wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays to protect your eyes as well.
  • Examine yourself. Give yourself a self-exam to check your skin from head to toe every month.


There are three major types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (the most common)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, which originate from skin cells (the second most common)
  • Melanoma, which originates from pigment-producing skin cells (less common, though most dangerous)

A biopsy (obtaining a sample of cell tissue) is often the only test needed to diagnose and determine the stage of skin cancer.

During an “excisional” biopsy, the doctor will remove the suspected skin lesion and an area of healthy tissue around it. Another kind of biopsy utilized is a “punch” biopsy, during which the doctor will only remove a small portion of the affected skin. Local anesthetic is needed for both procedures.

A pathologist will then examine the tissue under a microscope. If the examination determines that the sample is cancerous, but that the biopsy completely removed the cancerous cells, then no further treatment will be necessary. However, if cancerous cells are found in the margins of the removed tissue, additional treatment or testing may be recommended.

The earlier skin cancer is detected, the more likely the body will respond well to treatment. Ask your doctor if you should be seen annually for a professional skin exam.