Preventing skin damage matters in every season

We’re paying a price for our love of the sun. In 2011, the National Cancer Institute counted 68,130 cases of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. These cases resulted in 8,700 deaths and cost nearly $2 billion to treat. And while summer may be over, everyone should know how to protect skin from sun damage throughout the year.

More sun = more risk

Women in Arizona are three times more likely to develop skin cancer than women in New Hampshire. The sun’s ultraviolet A (UVA) rays damage DNA, while UVB causes mutations and suppresses immune function. These risks are increasing:

Since 1980, melanoma cases have jumped by 50 percent in women younger than age 30.

The beauty cost

Sun damage also causes signs of premature aging, including:

  • Yellowing
  • Thinning, with broken blood vessels
  • Precancerous scales called actinic keratoses
  • Wrinkles
  • Brown spots
  • Enlarged pores

Protect and prevent

My prescription to prevent premature aging and reduce skin cancer risk:

  • Avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Protect your eyes in overcast weather by wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
  • Remember sunscreen during fall activities such as attending sports games, raking leaves and visiting a pumpkin patch.
  • Know your family history. If someone in your family had melanoma (or you have other risk factors), the American Academy of Dermatology recommends getting a full-body skin exam at least once a year.

Skin cancer and sun damage are preventable. Discover a paler, healthier you and help your family do the same.

Three Major Skin Cancers

Basal cell

The most common variety. Appears as pearly nodules or sores that do not heal.

Squamous cell

More aggressive; can spread to the lymph nodes, lungs and other organs. May appear as a nodule or sore.


The most dangerous variety. May present as a mole that changes or a darkened spot or freckle with multiple colors.

Risk Factors

  • Light skin, red hair, freckles
  • Indoor tanning
  • Smoking
  • Severe sunburns early in life
  • Outdoor occupation
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer

Suspicious mole? Know your ABCDE

Asymmetrical the halves don’t match
Borders irregular edges
Color multiple colors
Diameter larger than a pencil eraser
Evolving its changing

If a mole shows one or more of these signs, get it checked.

Robert B. Polisky, M.D., is board certified in dermatology and internal medicine. For more information, visit