Preventing Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer.  It is increasing in incidence because of our outdoor life style and failure to protect from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  So, what can you do to prevent getting skin cancer?

Three Steps

Naples friend Dr. Michael Fenster, retired dermatologist, provided the following information.

Damage to the skin and skin cancer formation is due to exposure to ultraviolet rays, predominantly from the sun, but also from indoor tanning parlors.  Therefore, it is necessary to provide protection from this damaging radiation.  This can be accomplished in several ways:

  1. Staying indoors during the day when the sun’s rays are strongest
  2. Wearing Protective Clothing
  3. Applying Sunscreens


While it is impractical to stay inside all day long, the proper clothing is protective of UV radiation and the tighter the weave of the clothing the greater the protection.  Clothing offers greater protection than sunscreens and the more the body is covered, like with long sleeves, the greater the protection.

Specific sun protective clothing is now available which offers even greater protection than standard clothing.  One brand of this type of clothing is “Coolbar.”

Hats are an essential factor in UV protection.  Solid hats, without air holes offer the best protection.  Having a flap extending from the back of the hat and covering the nape of the neck offers even greater protection.

Wearing a visor, rather than a full cap, offers no protection to the top of the head, particularly in those with thinning of the hair or total baldness.

Sunscreen Lotions

Sunscreens are an essential ingredient in protecting the skin from UV damage; and they are of two types – UVA and UVB.  UVB sunscreens are rated by the SPF factor.  The higher the SPF the longer one can stay in the sun before burning occurs.

An example of how the SPF works is the following:  if one can stay outdoors for 10 minutes before getting redness from the exposure, then a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will allow the individual to remain outdoors for 300 minutes before redness occurs.

Ingredients in UVB sunscreens include oxybenzone and benzophenone.  Ingredients in UVA sunscreens include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Some sunscreens combine UVA and UVB ingredients, which is most protective.

Even sunscreens labeled as waterproof need to be reapplied after swimming or heavy sweating to provide the best protection.  It is wise to reapply sunscreen after two hours in the sun, regardless of activity.  Unfortunately, the ingredients in UVB sunscreens are causing lasting damage to coral reefs and their use is being prohibited in some tropical locations.

Seeing a Dermatologist

It is important to see a dermatologist annually to have a full body exam to check for skin cancer and pre-cancers.  Immediate attention should be given to any sore that doesn’t heal quickly or any mole that enlarges, changes color, has multiple colors and/or an irregular border.

Disclaimer:  The information provided here is not for diagnosis or therapy of any disease, but is for informational purposes only.

Any additional comments or questions?

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4 thoughts on “Preventing Skin Cancer

  1. Wondering if Dr. Fenster has a feel for how long after the damage is done that the cancer shows up. I’ve anecdotally heard that the skin cancers that show up in us old farts is from the sunburns we got as kids and teenagers. Have no idea whether that might be so, or whether anyone actually knows. I know that I’ll keep sunblock on my lower lip. . .

  2. Ultra-violet damage to the skin is accumulative with each exposure adding to previous exposures. There is truly no safe amount of radiation as far as damage to the skin. That being said, sunlight exposure provides essential Vitamin D.
    When and if, a skin cancer develops depends on several factors including total exposure to the UV radiation, genetics, skin and hair color, etc. Lighter skin and hair color predisposes to earlier development of skin cancer.
    Two blistering sunburns in early life sets the stage for development of melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer.
    Skin cancer, when caught early, is a relatively curable cancer. It is important to see the dermatologist regularly for total body skin evaluation.
    Remember the importance of wearing protective clothing and sunscreen when outdoors.

  3. Seeing how many teaching pros have been diagnosed with skin cancer has scared the daylights (pun intended!) out of me. I see my dermatologist twice a year and wear sunscreen with a SPF of 50 which I apply before morning and afternoon lessons. If, by following simple precautions, you can avoid skin cancer, why would anyone willingly not follow them? The days of being sun worshipers have come and gone!
    Thanks for the cautionary post, George.

    Steve, good advice. thanks, george

  4. George today’s topic is so timely as Judy and I have our annual visits to the Dermatologist today. I have had several basil cells cut from my face and very happy that was all. They latest were deep and the mohs surgery worked quite well. I play lots of tennis and golf and I wear a hat and apply sun screen every time. Another great subject keep them coming my friend. An ounce of prevention is worth a lb of cure.

    Phil, glad all is good (i see my dermatologist on Monday!). George

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