Article: Skin Cancer Prevention

Overview of Prevention

Prevention

Doctors can not 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 can not. For example, although you can choose to quit smoking, you can not 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 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.

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. 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.

Whether sunscreens are effective in protecting against nonmelanoma skin cancer has not been determined.

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: Studies have suggested that avoiding sunburns, especially in childhood and adolescence, may reduce the incidence of 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.

Changes to This Summary (06/10/2003)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Editorial changes were made to this summary.

Questions or Comments About This Summary

If you have questions or comments about this summary, please send them to Cancer.gov through the Web site's Contact Form. We can respond only to email messages written in English.

To Learn More

Call

For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deaf and hard-of-hearing callers with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615. The call is free and a trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.

Web sites and Organizations

The NCI's Cancer.gov Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. There are also many other places where people can get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Local hospitals may have information on local and regional agencies that offer information about finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems associated with cancer treatment.

Publications

The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.

LiveHelp

The NCI's LiveHelp service, a program available on several of the Institute's Web sites, provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.

Write

For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:

NCI Public Inquiries Office
Suite 3036A
6116 Executive Boulevard, MSC8322
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322

About PDQ

PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on Cancer.gov.

PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at Cancer.gov, the NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.

PDQ contains cancer information summaries.

The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to- understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.

The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.

Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.

PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.

People who are at high risk for a certain type of cancer may want to take part in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether a certain drug or nutrient can prevent cancer. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients and those who are at risk for cancer. During prevention clinical trials, information is collected about prevention methods, the risks involved, and how well they do or do not work. If a clinical trial shows that a new method is better than one currently being used, the new method may become "standard."

Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at Cancer.gov. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.


Source: National Cancer Institute
Cache Date: December 10, 2004

Resources