Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Tips 

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and it is on the rise among young adults. More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Your best defense against skin cancer is prevention and learning how to spot skin cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage, should it strike. Here are some simple precautions to take:

  • Do a monthly head-to-toe skin self-exam or enlist your spouse or a friend to examine your back and areas that you cannot readily see yourself, like the top of your head and between your toes. You can find step-by-step instructions here. Examine all skin growths (moles, birthmarks, or any brown spots) for the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer, make an appointment to see a doctor immediately if you notice anything suspicious:

    • A = Asymmetry –If one half of the mole does not match the other half, it could be a sign of melanoma.
    • B = Borders -- The borders of an early melanoma tend to be irregular, notched, ragged, or undefined.
    • C = Color -- A mole that has different shades of tan, brown, black, and sometimes white, pink, red or blue could be a warning sign.
    • D = Diameter -- Melanomas tend to have diameters larger than ¼ inch or 6 millimeters (the size of the pink eraser at the end of a yellow pencil or larger)
    • E = Evolving -- Any change in the color, size, or shape of a mole, or any new symptom, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, could be a sign of melanoma.

  • Schedule a full-body skin check by a physician at least once a year. Professional skin exams for yourself and your child rank as high in importance as annual physicals and regular visits to the dentist.

  • Apply sunscreen generously before you go outdoors, every day, all year round, even when it is slightly cloudy or cool. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, including your lips, eyelids, ears, and feet. Look for sunscreens with Sun Protective Factor (SPF 30) or higher and packages that say they provide "broad-spectrum protection." See the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new sunscreen labeling requirements below. Ask your doctor about the best sunscreen for your children.

  • Practice safe sun exposure. Never intentionally seek to sunbathe or get a tan. Approximately 65 to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, an invisible form of radiation that comes from sunlight and indoor tanning, including sunlamps and tanning beds. Not only can sunbathing cause cancer, it also causes wrinkles and sagging skin.

  • Dress for the sun. Wear sun-protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and wrap-around type sunglasses with 100 percent ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B (UVA/UVB) protection. (Check the label on sunglasses before you buy them for their UVA/UVB rating.) If you wear a baseball cap, don’t forget to put sunscreen on your neck. 

Visit our Health Library to learn more about skin cancer

Understanding New Sunscreen Labels 

As of June 18, 2012, sunscreen manufacturers will be required by the FDA to make the following label changes on over-the-counter sunscreen products:

  • The new packages should say they provide "broad-spectrum protection." This means that the product will provide ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) coverage measured by the given SPF value. Broad-spectrum sunscreens, by the new definition, are products that block light beyond a critical wavelength of 370 nm.

  • Look for SPF 30 or higher. This still means that it takes 30 minutes of sun exposure to get the same amount of UV light penetration as you would get with one minutes of unprotected skin. Sunscreens with an SPF 15 or lower must have the following wording on their packaging, "Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."

  • Sunscreens can no longer be labeled as "waterproof," as no product remains fully on the skin in the presence of water or sweat. Products can be labeled as "water resistant" if they pass a standard test of water exposure (either 40 or 80 minutes) followed by UV testing.

Contact Us

Skin Cancer Medical Oncology Program
Tel: 212-659-5414
Fax: 212-659-5599

Mount Sinai Health System
One Gustave L. Levy Place
Box 1128
New York, NY 10029-6574

To schedule a skin exam: