Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Skin cancer prevention

Excessive exposure to the sun, having fair skin and being exposed to coal tar, pitch, creosote and arsenic compounds or radium are risk factors for melanoma. Children who have had severe sunburns are at much greater risk of later developing melanoma. Avoid the sun during the hours when its rays are brightest: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sunscreens and protective clothing should be worn when in the sun. Sunscreens are rated in strength according to an SPF (sun protection factor), which ranges from two to 15 or higher. The higher the number on the label, the greater the protection a sunscreen provides, meaning more of the sun’s harmful rays will be blocked out. Avoid tanning parlors. The rays that tanning machines use can be dangerous to your skin.

Using a full-length mirror, you should examine your skin from head to toe every month looking for changes, particularly a new growth, a mole that changes or a sore that does not heal.

Warning signs:

Melanomas often start as small, mole-like growths that increase in size, change colors, become ulcer-like and bleed easily from slight injury.  You can remember the warning signs by remembering your ABCs:

  • Asymmetry: Part of a mole does not match the other part.
  • Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are ragged, notched or blurred.
  • Color: The mole’s color is not even.
  • Diameter: A mole greater than six millimeters in size or any sudden or progressive increase in size is of concern.