Growing up, you were probably warned about the dangers of the sun on your skin. But how much do you really know about skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer there is, but don’t let this fact fool you into a false sense of security. While some skin cancers are highly curable when caught in their early stages, others can be deadly.

Here's what you need to know about skin cancer:

  • Repeated sun exposure over time is the main cause of most skin cancers.
  • People who were diagnosed with skin cancer in the past have a higher chance of developing skin cancer again.
  • Applying daily sunscreen and avoiding prolonged UV exposure can help reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

1) Roughly 90 Percent of Skin Cancer Is Caused by UV Exposure

Although skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States, it’s also the most preventable. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, roughly 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanomas can be attributed to ultraviolet (UV) exposure.

Think about this—the main cause of skin cancer is something that most of us have control over. UV rays, whether from the sun or tanning beds, can penetrate deep into the skin and damage our cells.

In addition to causing premature aging of the skin, this damage can cause our cells to grow in uncontrollable ways. By using proper sun protection and staying away from tanning beds, you can significantly reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Dermatologist examining patient in clinic

2) Melanoma Is More Common in Men Than in Women

Melanoma is a particularly aggressive form of skin cancer which can spread quickly, making it the deadliest form of all skin cancers. Additionally, skin cancer statistics show that it hits men the hardest.

According to the American Cancer Society, roughly 91,270 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2018 and an estimated 9,320 people will die from it. Of these 9,320 individuals, nearly 6,000 will be men.

3) Men of Color Are More Likely to Die from Melanoma

Although skin cancer is rarer in African Americans and Hispanics, research shows at their mortality rate is worse compared to Caucasians (see claim: “Multiple studies have demonstrated that 5-year melanoma survival rates of Blacks and Hispanics are consistently lower than those of Caucasians.”) One possible explanation is that people of color believe they aren’t at risk for skin cancer and put off doctor visits until the cancer has spread.

Even studies which have adjusted for socioeconomic status, age and treatment found that African Americans had poorer survival rates (see claim: “…the poor OS observed for African American patients with melanoma is not explained by differences in treatment or SES.”) Thus, scientists still aren’t certain of the reasons behind the higher mortality rate in African Americans.

4) Basal Cell Carcinoma Makes Up 90 Percent of Skin Cancer Cases

In the United States, the vast majority of skin cancers diagnosed are basal cell carcinoma. Although it’s slow-growing and highly curable, it comes with its own unique challenges.

When left untreated, it can grow large and cause disfigurement. In rare cases, it can spread to other parts of the body and cause death. 

Because basal cell carcinoma can reoccur in the same spot, those who are diagnosed with this form of skin cancer must get regular checkups after its removal.

Attractive young man with sunblock at the beach

5) Using Daily Sunscreen Can Reduce Skin Cancer Risk by About 40 Percent

There is a reason why we stress the importance of wearing sunscreen on this blog. Researchers from the University of Sydney gathered data on 1,700 participants and found that risk of melanoma was cut by 40 percent in those who used sunscreen in childhood (see claim: “…Risk of melanoma was less with higher use of sunscreen in childhood…”)

If you weren’t diligent about wearing sunscreen as a child, that isn’t an excuse to not wear it daily as an adult. You can still reduce your risk by using a daily men’s moisturizer with SPF.

There Is Good News: Cancer Survival Rates Are on the Rise

It’s not all dreary news. According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of cancer survivors are expected to rise from 15.5 million to 20.3 million by 2026.

The bottom line is that preparation, vigilance and prevention are the keys to keeping your skin healthy. No matter your skin type, getting regular screening and using sun protection could make all the difference.