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5 ways you can prevent skin cancer

Skin Cancer Awareness Month might be coming to a close, but sunshiney summer days—and the increased risk of dangerous sun exposure they can bring—are just around the corner in Cleveland. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with more than 5 million cases diagnosed annually, but fortunately it’s also one of the most preventable. 

Jake Wang

To learn how to try to prevent it, The Daily tapped into the expertise of Jake Wang, an assistant professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and dermatologist at University Hospitals. Wang specializes in the treatment of skin cancer using Mohs surgery and surgical reconstruction. Following his dermatology residency, he completed a fellowship in dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology at Yale School of Medicine.

Read on to gain Wang’s tips to prevent skin cancer. 

1. Wear sunscreen.

Apply broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 and above every two hours and reapply more frequently with swimming or sweating excessively. SPF 30 sunscreen blocks 97% of Ultraviolet B (UVB). Lower SPF sunscreens still provide protection (SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB), but studies have shown that most sunscreen users apply only 20% to 50% of the quantity needed to achieve the SPF on the label so the SPF difference can matter. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both Ultraviolet A (UVA) and UVB, which makes them more effective at protecting your skin. 

2. Wear sun-protective clothing and a wide-brim hat.

Clothing made specifically for sun protection has an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF, which indicates the fraction of UV radiation that penetrates the fabric. UPF 50 clothing, for example, allows only 1/50th or 2% of ultraviolet rays to reach the skin. We also can forget to wear wide-brim hats to protect our ears, which is where I commonly see skin cancer arising, so be sure to grab a hat when going outdoors. 

3. Stay out of the sun during peak hours.

Avoid sun exposure or seek shade during peak hours of sun intensity from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The UV index is a measure of the strength of ultraviolet radiation and can be used to plan outdoor activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency recommend taking precautions (e.g. wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, hat) to protect your skin if the UV index is three or higher in your area.

4. Avoid tanning beds.

More than 7 million Americans still use tanning salons every year, particularly adolescents. Not only does [the practice] lead to early wrinkles, but tanning before age 20 increases the risk of developing melanoma by an astounding 47%. If you want to appear tan, I recommend self-tanning products—but don’t forget to still apply sunscreen, because self-tanner doesn’t offer sun protection!

5. Recognize lesions suspicious for skin cancer.

Many skin cancers can be caught early or in their precancerous stage. If you notice new or changing spots on your skin, particularly those that are painful, bleed or appear different from other spots, consult a board-certified dermatologist. Every individual’s skin cancer risk is different depending on your genetics, history of sun exposure and other factors. Your dermatologist can help determine your need for routine total body skin exams. 

Learn more about the Department of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve University.