Skin Cancer Awareness: Most Common Cancer is Also the Most Preventable

A doctor checks the skin on a patient's neck
During an exam, dermatologists use a dermatoscope or epiluminescence microscopy to visualize lesions and diagnose cancerous and non-cancerous skin lesions.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to shine light on the disease and the importance of prevention and screening.

With more than 5 million cases diagnosed each year, skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the U.S. 

It’s also one of the most preventable.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Melanoma is less common than some other types of skin cancer, but more dangerous because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, if not detected and treated early. The good news is that when caught early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%.

The American Cancer Society predicts about 100,640 new melanoma skin cancer cases (59,170 in men and 41,470 in women) will be diagnosed in 2024, and 8,290 people (5,430 men and 2,860 women) will die from the disease.

More people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. each year than all other cancers combined and according to Skin Cancer Foundation statistics, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.

Nicole A Boschetto, PA-C, a dermatology specialist at South Shore Medical Center answers questions about skin cancer causes and risk factors, treatments and tips for prevention.

Why is screening for skin cancer so important and at what age should people start?

More skin cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. each year than any other kind of cancer. 

 Fortunately, most skin cancers are curable if caught early, which is why regular screenings and self-exams are essential. 

We usually recommend having a baseline skin exam in your 20s. It should be sooner if there is a family history of skin cancer. 

A dermatologist does a skin cancer screening on a female patients arm
Having lighter skin, hair and eye color increases your risk for skin cancer.

What kind of screening tests are available for skin cancer?

To screen for skin cancer, patients should schedule regular exams with a dermatology provider. During an exam, a dermatoscope or epiluminescence microscopy is used to visualize lesions and can help diagnose cancerous and non-cancerous skin lesions. 

Self-exams are also important. By checking your own skin regularly, you can find and report any new or abnormal moles or lesions to your provider before they have a chance to turn into skin cancer.    

What are some of the risk factors for skin cancer and preventative measures that can lower someone’s risk?

Excessive sun/ultraviolet (UV) light exposure, having lighter skin, hair and eye color and a family history of melanoma are the main risk factors for skin cancer. 

Protecting your skin from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and avoiding tanning beds is the best way to prevent skin cancer. 

A mom applying sunscreen to her son's nose and face
Protecting your skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays is key to preventing skin cancer. Dermatologists recommend covering up with clothing, wearing a hat and sun glasses and applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 when spending time outdoors.

Practice sun safety when outdoors by applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, covering up with clothing, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and seeking shade from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.

Studies have also shown that taking a vitamin D supplement and/or making sure your vitamin D level is normal may reduce risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.   

What are some signs/symptoms of skin cancer you should discuss with your primary care provider or a dermatologist?

I remind patients when they are checking their own skin to look out for the ABCDE’s of melanomas – Asymmetry, an irregular Border, multiple Colors, a Diameter larger than a pencil eraser, or a lesion that is Evolving. 

Patients should report new or changing flat, brown or black spots to their dermatology provider. Any non-healing lesion should also be examined. 

What kind of treatment options are available for someone diagnosed with skin cancer?

Depending on the type and size of the cancer, treatments may include, topical therapy (with creams), freezing/cryotherapy (with liquid nitrogen) and surgery.  

For skin cancer that has spread to other parts of the body chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy or a combination of treatments may be used.  Your dermatology provider will work with you to determine the most effective treatment.

How have advancements in the detection and treatment of skin cancer improved patient care and outcomes?

Advances in science and technology are transforming the way we understand, diagnose, and treat various skin cancers. 

From total body scanning to genomic testing, technology is helping assist providers to make more informed decisions about treatments and improve patient outcomes. 

An infographic with 2024 statistics for skin cancer


Nicole A Boschetto, PA-C is a dermatology specialist at South Shore Medical Center. Learn more about Specialty Care at South Shore Health.