Skin Cancer

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States? Each year, more than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed. There are more new cases of skin cancer than cancers of the breast, colon, prostate and lung combined.

One in five Americans will develop a skin cancer during their lifetime, and the number of skin cancers is rising rapidly. The good news is that it is the easiest to cure if diagnosed and treated early. If skin cancer is allowed to progress, it can result in disfigurement - and even death.

Anyone can get skin cancer, however, there are certain characteristics that may put you at an increased risk. Sun and indoor tanning are the leading causes of skin cancer.

Risk Factors:

  • Light or Fair Skin, especially if you have natural blonde or red hair and blue, green, or gray eyes
  • History of bad sunburns, especially blistering sunburns
  • Skin that burns easily rather than tans
  • More than 50 moles
  • Moles that are atypical nevi or dyplastic nevi
  • Family history, a close relative (parent, sibling or child) has, or has had, skin cancer

You are more likely to develop skin cancer if you spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun or use tanning beds or sun lamps. If you live, or have lived, in an area that gets intense sunlight such as Florida, the Caribbean or northern Australia you are at an increased risk.

Medical History
You may be at an increased risk for skin cancer if you have or have had any of the following:

  • A previous skin cancer
  • Actinic keratoses (If you have this it means your skin has lots of damage which puts you at an increased risk of getting all types of skin cancer).
  • Organ transplant (If you have had a transplant, you are on medication that prevents rejection of the transplanted organ. That medication also weakens your immune system which puts you at an increased risk of skin cancers).
  • Bad Burn (If you have suffered a bad burn, skin cancer can develop at that site).
  • X-ray treatments used to treat a medical condition can increase risk but it takes many years to develop
  • Diseases that weaken the immune system (Lymphoma and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are diseases that can weaken the immune system).
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum - people who inherit this rare disease get many skin cancers.
  • Gorlin’s syndrome, or basal cell nevus syndrome, is a rare disease that causes many basal cell carcinomas early in life.

Prevention and Early Detection

Protect your skin from the sun! Avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are most intense. Wear tightly woven clothing, sunglasses and a hat to protect your skin and apply sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15. If you are in the water or participating in outdoor activities, remember to reapply sunscreen frequently.

Make sure that children are protected from the sun; severe sunburns in childhood increase their risk of melanoma later in life.

Avoid sunbathing and indoor tanning!

It is strongly recommended that everyone practice monthly head-to-toe self-examination of their skin. This will enable you to become familiar with your skin and note any new or changing lesions or moles that might be suspicious. You can visit for a downloadable body self-examination form. Complete the form when you perform a self-examination of your skin and bring it with you when you see your dermatologist.
If you see something that concerns you, mark it on the form and bring to your dermatologist. Be aware of anything that lasts for two weeks or longer and is growing, changing shape, bleeding or itching. These could be signs of skin cancer. If caught early and removed, skin cancer has a high cure rate.

See a dermatologist at least once a year for a full body examination. This is especially important living in South Florida. Discuss your risk factors with your doctor to determine if you should be seen more frequently.