More people get skin cancer from tanning beds than get lung cancer from cigarettes

“More people get skin cancer from tanning beds than people get lung cancer from cigarettes,” says Ajaipal Kang, MD, a plastic surgeon at UPMC Hamot. This fact may shock you — and it should. Dr. Kang wants everyone to understand how serious an issue skin cancer is in the United States. In fact, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports it as the most common type of cancer in the United States.

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Skin Cancer Facts: Prevention and Detection

We talked to Dr. Kang about skin cancer and asked him to give us the facts. Here are his five main points:

1. Using a tanning bed increases your risk of skin cancer by 75 percent.

Skin cancer is mostly the result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Most people are exposed to UV light from the sun. But indoor tanning beds are the second most prevalent source of UV light, according to Dr. Kang.

Research shows that women under the age of 35 who use tanning beds increase their risk of skin cancer by 75 percent. Women who use tanning beds just once a month increase their risk of melanoma — the most serious type of skin cancer — by 55 percent. To get that sun-kissed glow, Dr. Kang recommends spray tans as a safe alternative.

2. Sunscreen with SPF 30 is fine — as long as you apply it correctly.

SPF — sun protection factor — is a relative measurement of how long your sunscreen will protect you from UV rays. (For example, 30 SPF equals 30 minutes of protection.) Dr. Kang says SPF 30 is the ideal number. There’s no need to use a higher SPF, as long as you’re applying it properly.

You should put about two tablespoons of sunscreen on your face and any exposed skin daily. Wait 15 minutes so it can soak in before going in the sun; then reapply every few hours if you’re sweating or around water. Otherwise, one application in the morning is fine.

Dr. Kang recommends making sunscreen part of your daily routine — and keeping it near your toiletries or in your car. Research has shown that if your sunscreen is next to your toothpaste, you’re more likely to use it.

3. Avoiding the sun at peak hours helps to reduce risk.

Of course, you want to spend time outside during the summer — but be mindful of the sun’s peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when it’s burning rays are strongest. If you do go outside during this time, be sure to apply enough sunscreen and cover all exposed areas. Wearing a sun hat or long-sleeved shirt also can help reduce your risk of sunburn.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen every day if you’ll be outside. Even on an overcast day, it’s still possible to get burned.

4. Only some moles are cause for concern.

Check your moles on a regular basis. Dr. Kang says to follow the ABCDEF rule: You should see your primary care doctor if a mole is asymmetrical (A), has irregular borders (B), is multiple colors or has changed colors (C), is larger in diameter (D) than a pencil eraser, is evolving (E), or looks funny (F) in any way. If you have a mole that’s ulcerating or bleeding, you should see a doctor immediately.

“On the other hand, if you’ve had a mole that’s been the same for 20 years and there has been no change, it is probably fine,” says Dr. Kang.

5. Prevention is vital for everyone.

“Having fair skin, red hair, or blue eyes definitely elevates your risk for skin cancer,” says Dr. Kang. But just because you’re not pale-skinned doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about prevention. He says that people with darker skin need to be just as careful about sun exposure.

Similarly, although women are diagnosed with skin cancer more often than men, men still need to do all they can to prevent the disease and monitor their skin for symptoms. This is especially important to remember, Dr. Kang explains, because men may be less likely to seek health care and to use sunscreen.

“Don’t forget,” says Dr. Kang, “just five sunburns in your lifetime is enough to increase your risk.” So slather on the SPF 30, avoid the sun when it’s strongest, and see your doctor if you notice a funny mole. Early detection is key. The earlier skin cancer is caught, the more likely it is to be curable.

To learn more about skin cancer prevention, visit UPMC Hillman Cancer Center’s Skin Cancer Program or call 855-756-7768 to schedule an appointment.