High School High School Biology and Chemistry TSS

A Summertime Guide to Skin Cancer!

Summer can cause harmful, painful sunburns-- and also skin cancer.

Image from Pixels

June 21st, or the Summer Solstice, marked the official start of summer. By now, everyone should be out of school and making plans to go to the beach, amusement park, go hiking, or tour their local art museum to snap some aesthetic photos to post on their instas. With the change in season, our wardrobes quickly adjust to shorts, tanks, and plenty of pastel colors to fit the summer mood.

However with this new wardrobe comes an unwanted guest, sunburns. Maybe you were rushing out of the house to go try that new brunch place that would have you waiting 45 minutes if you didn’t get there on time, or maybe you woke up late and had beach plans with your friend and you didn’t have time to put on sunscreen. Maybe you did apply sunscreen, but you forgot to reapply. For whatever reason, you come home with a nasty burn and you look like a ripe tomato ready to be picked. For the next couple of days, you know that you will suffer, probably swear to never go to the beach again or to even go outside, but as soon as your skin doesn’t burn, you’ll go and do the same thing all over again. Even though you think that you’re fine, little do you know the damage that is being done to your skin.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the world. Although many people believe that melanoma is the only type of skin cancer, it makes up a small percentage of all skin cancer cases. On the other hand, 80% of skin cancer diagnosis is actually non-melanoma skin cancer that includes basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas (5). Of these 80% cases, 90% of them are associated with UV radiation exposure from the sun (4). Not only is UV exposure related to most skin cancer cases, it also causes the skin to age. About 90% of skin aging is caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun (4). There are two types of UV rays that are responsible for skin aging and skin cancer. UVA rays are the weaker of the two and cause long-term damage like wrinkling and has has some links to skin cancer (6). Tanning beds also use UVA rays in high doses, which is very damaging to the skin. UVB rays, the stronger of the two, is most directly linked to skin cancer and does damage to the skin cell’s DNA and is also the cause of sunburns.

Although it seems scary that just by standing in the sun you can get cancer, it is easily preventable. Taking simple precautions like wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15 and reapplying every two hours can reduce skin aging by 24% (4). Sunscreen functions by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the UV rays before they reach your skin (3). Other ways to prevent getting skin cancer include covering up exposed skin by  wearing hats and staying in the shade as much as possible.

Even though it seems you’re sacrificing the tan you’ve waited for all year, you are ultimately protecting your health from any complications in the future. It may seem tempting, but avoid tanning beds as well. Just one session with a tanning bed can increase the risk of getting squamous cell carcinoma by 67% and basal cell carcinoma by 29% (2). All of them use the same harmful UV rays that the sun emits and will just lead you down the path to skin cancer.

No matter how much you try to protect yourself, there is still a chance of skin cancer forming. In that case, checking yourself regularly and early diagnosis is key. Quickly detected, skin cancer is easily treated. By using the ABCs of skin cancer, you can easily identify skin cancer, both melanoma and non-melanoma (1). You should begin by inspecting your body for moles, growth, or lesions. Then using these guidelines, inspect:


  • Asymmetry- You should be able to draw a line through the mole and have two symmetrical halves in non-cancerous moles
  • Border- The borders should be smooth in non-cancerous moles. Cancerous moles tend to have uneven borders.
  • Color- Most non-cancerous moles are uniform in color. Having varying colors and shades serve as a warning sign.
  • Diameter- Non-cancerous moles are generally small in diameter. Cancerous moles are usually wider than ¼ inch in diameter.
  • Evolving- Cancerous moles will evolve and change over time, which is why it is key to perform self-examinations every so often. Non-cancerous moles generally stay the same over time.


Hopefully, with this information, you can make more cautious choices the next time you decide to go outside. I’m pretty sure we all enjoy a good tan, but being a little pale never hurt anyone, especially if it means preventing skin cancer.


[1] “Do You Know Your ABCDEs?” Skin Cancer Foundation, The Skin Cancer Foundation, http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma/melanoma-warning-signs-and-images/do-you-know-your-abcdes#panel1-1.

[2] “Indoor Tanning.” American Academy of Dermatology, American Academy of Dermatology, http://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care.

[3] “Skin Cancer.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 June 2017, http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm.

[4] “Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics.” Skin Cancer Foundation, The Skin Cancer Foundation, http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts#ethnicity.

[5] “Skin Cancer (Non-Melanoma): Statistics.” Cancer.Net, American Society of Clinical Oncology, 4 Apr. 2018, http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/skin-cancer-non-melanoma/statistics.

[6] “What Is Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation?” American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society , http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skin-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/what-is-uv-radiation.html.



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