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Stay Safe in the Summer Sun

Summer’s here and it seems like everyone’s ready to get outside. In this chat with our medical director, Dr. Lindsey Carter, we discuss why you should grab your sunscreen before you head out the door.

Q&A with Dr. Carter

What is skin cancer?

It’s when some of your skin cells grow in a way that’s not normal. It’s the most common cancer in the U.S. and there are 3 main types. Each starts in a different kind of skin cell:

  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common
  • Melanoma is the most dangerous because it’s more likely to grow and spread

Who’s at risk for it?

Anyone can get skin cancer, but you have a higher risk with: 

  • Fair skin
  • A history of sunburns
  • Lots of time in the sun, especially without any protection
  • A lot of moles on your skin
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer
  • Indoor tanning

What types of skin changes should cause concern?

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs on areas of your body that get a lot of sun, like the face and neck. Look for red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, and other changes that don’t look normal.

Squamous cell carcinoma is also common on body parts that get sun, like the scalp, ears, and lips. Check for new, changing, or unusual skin growths, like a hard red bump. Sores or scabs that don’t go away are another sign to watch for.

Melanoma can start anywhere on your body, but it’s more often on the back, arms, legs, and face. It can also occur on the soles of your feet and palms of your hands—this is more common in people with darker skin. Look for new growths or changes in skin color.

If you see any of the signs, talk to your doctor right away.

Are moles dangerous?

Most moles are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. They’re typically one color and have a clear, round border. 

But melanoma can sometimes start in a mole. When you check your skin, look at new or existing moles and ask yourself:

  • Is one half different from the other?
  • Are the outer edges uneven?
  • Is it dark black or more than 1 color?
  • Is it wider than a pencil eraser (a quarter of an inch)?
  • Has the shape, size, or color changed?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, have your doctor check it out.

Can skin cancer be treated?

Yes. There are all kinds of treatments, from freezing and heat to surgery and radiation. It all depends on the type of cancer and how far along it is. No matter what type it is, it’s best to catch it early. That greatly increases the odds of success. 

How can you prevent skin cancer?

If you have a higher risk of skin cancer, talk to your primary care provider (PCP). You might need to see a dermatologist (skin doctor) regularly for a skin check.

Aside from that, make sure to protect yourself when you go out in the sun: 

  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days (you can use your plan’s Over-the-Counter Credit to buy sunscreen) 
  • Stay in the shade when you can
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your face, ears, neck, and eyes
  • Wear light, loose clothing to cover other areas like your arms, legs, and feet 

The Takeaway

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Here’s what to remember about it:

  • Protect your skin with SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen, even on cloudy days
  • Check your skin regularly for changes—if something doesn’t look right, get it checked out
  • If you have a higher risk for skin cancer, talk to your PCP about getting regular skin checks

Disclaimer

This article is for general reference only (learn more). Always talk to your doctor or other health professional for medical advice.