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Skin Cancer: Understanding Your Risk & How to Prevent It

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The month of May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which draws attention to the most common type of cancer within the United States. Approximately 10,000 people living in Hawai’i will receive a diagnosis this year.1 Year-round sun exposure and close proximity to the equator increases the risk for people in Hawai’i too. However, skin cancer is one of the most preventable diseases when equipped with an understanding of its risk factors and how to avoid it.

Risk Factors

  • Ultraviolet (UV) Rays: Most skin cancers are caused from too much time in the sun or tanning beds and sunlamps. The risk increases with the amount of exposure. Those who work outdoors in direct sunlight, or enjoy outdoor recreational activities are more likely to have skin cancer.
  • Age: As you grow older, your risk for a diagnosis increases. It is also important to note that sunlight exposure at a young age has a profound impact on having skin cancer later in life. Frequent sunburns as a child increases your risk. The Hawai’i Cancer Plan 2030 reports that children, adolescents, and young adults who avoid intermittent high-intensity sun exposures, sunburns and indoor UV tanning can reduce skin cancer risks by 50 to 80 percent.   
  • Skin Tone: Everyone is at risk, regardless of complexion, but there is an increase for people with blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes and skin that burns or freckles easily.  
  • Gender: Before the age of 50, women have an increased risk of skin cancer. But, after this age the risk is higher for men.3
  • Family History: A diagnosis is more likely if you have close relatives, such as parents or siblings, who experienced skin cancer.

Prevention

While many are affected by skin cancer, it can often be prevented. A few simple steps can help reduce your risk. While you’re enjoying the outdoors, be sure to seek out shaded areas. When possible, plan to go outside during the morning or evening hours, as the UV rays are strongest during the middle of the day. Protect your body with sun-protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses. Pick a sunscreen that guards against both UVA and UVB rays with at least a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Use a generous amount of sunscreen and be sure to re-apply it often.

Skin examinations can help identify skin cancer when it is most treatable. Each month do a self-examination and look for changes in your skin, such as abnormal moles. Regularly checking can help you identify differences sooner. Schedule an appointment at least once a year with a dermatologist for a full exam.

In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, practice sun safety and begin to routinely check your skin. These efforts can go a long way to reduce your risk and prevent skin cancer.

1 https://www.hawaii.edu/news/2021/05/26/how-can-you-prevent-skin-cancer/

2  https://hhsp.hawaii.gov/assets/pdf/HHSP_Cancer_Plan_WEB.pdf

3  https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html

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