It’s Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Learn how to protect yourself

  • Published
  • By Maj. Karen Salyars, PA-C
  • 436th Aerospace Medical Squadron

If you had to guess which type of cancer is the most common in the U.S., which one would you choose? Breast cancer? Lung or prostate cancer? Actually, every year, 5.4 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. — that’s more than every other cancer type combined. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and it’s a great time to learn a little about skin cancer, what to look for and how to protect yourself.

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Of these, basal cell carcinoma is the most common and the least likely to spread, while malignant melanoma is the least common but the deadliest. Unfortunately, the number of melanoma cases diagnosed per year is on the rise and melanoma rates have doubled in the past 30 years. 

Performing a self-exam of your skin at least once a month has been shown to aid in the early diagnosis of skin cancers, but it can be difficult to know what to look for. Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas usually appear on chronically sun-exposed skin areas like the forehead, nose, hands, arms and chest.  Basal cell carcinomas often look like raised pink bumps with shiny or waxy appearing surfaces, while squamous cell carcinomas appear as persistent, scaly, red and rough skin lesions which don’t heal and may bleed easily. 

In contrast, melanoma may appear as a changing mole or as a “new” mole. About 70 percent of melanoma are new lesions, while the remaining 30 percent grow from an existing mole. This is one of the many reasons why it’s important to get to know all of the spots on your skin. Unlike basal and squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanoma can appear anywhere on the body — even on skin that has not been chronically exposed to the sun, like the eyes, nails, feet and genitals. Most people have one or two “types” of moles, and if you learn to become familiar with your skin, it becomes easier to recognize if something is changing or new. One helpful screening tool for melanoma is the “ABCDE” mnemonic. Characteristics of melanoma include changes in the symmetry, borders, colors and size of a mole or spot on the skin. 

The best way to reduce the risk of skin cancer is by protecting yourself from the UV radiation emitted by the sun and indoor tanning. Daily use of an SPF 15 sunscreen and limiting the time spent outdoors between the hours of 10am to 2pm greatly reduces the risk for skin cancer. 

If you have a question about skin cancer, would like to have your skin examined by your Primary Care Manager, or would like to discuss a referral to a dermatologist, please call the 436th Medical Group appointment line at (302) 730-4633. The National Cancer Institute has a wealth of great online information and can be found at


Did you know?

  • Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of skin color

  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime

  • Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, totaling more than all other cancers combined

  • More people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than people who develop lung cancer because of smoking

  • A history of five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma

  • On average, one American dies every hour from malignant melanoma

  • If detected and treated early, melanoma survival rates are greater than 99 percent

  • Approximately 95 percent of all skin cancers are attributable to UV exposure

  • Using a daily SPF 15+ sunscreen reduces the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent and melanoma by 50 percent

  • About half of all melanomas are detected on self-skin examinations