skin cancer check by doctor

Skin Cancer: 7 Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Bana Jobe

When people think about cancer prevention, most folks know the basics—for example, you should avoid smoking, eat nutritious foods, and get plenty of physical activity.

But one thing that can get overlooked is sun safety: Protecting yourself and your family from the sun’s ultraviolet rays can help reduce the risk for different skin cancers, including melanoma, the most serious type.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 7,000 people die of melanoma yearly, with exposure to UV rays considered a major risk factor. It’s also one of the most common cancers diagnosed in young adults.

While skin cancer affects a person’s physical and mental health, it can impact financial wellness, too. Treatment costs for skin cancer can include things like:

  • doctor’s visits
  • lab tests
  • drug costs
  • surgery
  • and much more—which may add up to thousands of dollars, even with insurance.

There are also costs insurance doesn’t cover, like childcare, transportation, and lost work.

Despite the many dangers of skin cancer, people still don’t know what they should do to keep themselves safe. Often, it just comes down to habits and choices. Ask yourself: How can I be more vigilant about the risks on all areas of my health—from physical and mental health to financial wellbeing?

Start with these seven actions:

What You Can Do, Starting Today

1. Wear Sunscreen Every Day

You should get in the habit of wearing sunscreen every day—make sure it’s broad-spectrum and water-resistant with an SPF 30 or higher. That also includes when it’s overcast or snowing—even when it’s cloudy, up to 80% of UV radiation can reach your skin!

You’ll need about two tablespoons of sunscreen to apply to your whole body—most people don’t use enough. Make sure to put more on every two hours, or more frequently if you get wet.

2. Cover Up With Protective Clothing When You’re Outside

Some clothes have UV protection built into the fabric—this is called a “UPF” or ultraviolet protection factor. But even without UPF-rated clothing, you can still protect yourself with long-sleeved pants and shirts, UV-rated sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat (in addition to sunscreen, of course).

When picking your wardrobe, aim for dark colors, which provide more protection than lighter shades. Also mind the fabric type — densely woven clothes like denim or synthetic fibers are better at protecting your skin than thin fabrics.

3. Find Some Shade Whenever Possible

It’s best to avoid sunlight when UV rays are at their strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can do this by working shade into your trips outside. Pack an umbrella for beach vacations or plan picnic spots near covered areas, for example.

4. Get Abnormal Moles or Marks Checked Out

Self-monitoring is an important part of self-care. So, aim to do a skin self-exam on the front and back sides of your body—many doctors recommend this once a month.

When looking at your skin, search for new or changing spots, sores that don’t heal, or asymmetrical moles with irregular borders. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual or something that concerns you. They can do a physical exam and help determine a diagnosis.

5. Tell Your Doctor About Your Family History of Cancer

Write down any family members who have had skin cancer, or other cancers as well—since other cancers may be linked genetically to melanoma. People who have an immediate family member diagnosed with melanoma have a 50% higher chance of developing the cancer themselves.

6. Avoid Tanning Beds

It’s a myth that tanning beds are safer than sunlight—they’re not. Tanning beds can emit both UVA and UVB radiation, which are the same rays emitted by the sun. Both rays can increase the risk for skin cancer. In fact, tanning beds actually may be more dangerous since the rays stay at the same intensity compared to sunlight which varies in intensity during the day.

If you need more convincing, read up on the former Miss Maryland—she tanned at least four times a week starting at age 17, and by 20 years old, was diagnosed with melanoma.

7. Look Into Critical Illness Insurance

Check to see if your employer offers a Critical Illness insurance policy. If they don’t, you can still buy these policies individually online. Critical Illness insurance is a supplemental insurance policy that pays lump-sum payments for designated health events, like a cancer diagnosis.

Typical amounts for these payments range from $10,000 to $30,000. People diagnosed with invasive melanoma typically receive 100% of that amount, while non-invasive diagnoses typically receive 25% of that coverage amount. Claims industry-wide are usually processed within 30 days – with some carriers paying within three to five business days, so you have the money quickly to use however you need.

As far as premium amounts, monthly costs on average are exponentially less than medical insurance ($25 vs. $500+ per month), so these plans will likely fit in your budget—especially if you buy them through your employer during open enrollment and have them auto-deducted from your paycheck.

Protect Your Skin, Protect Yourself

Skin cancer can be dangerous, but there are things you can do to help keep yourself safe. After all, preventive care is an important part of your overall health and wellness. And a big part of that is about protecting your skin from UV damage.

You should also be mindful of your financial wellness. This kind of protection can give you peace of mind so that you don’t have to worry as much about money if the unthinkable happens. Instead, you can focus on what’s important: recovery.

Next Steps to Consider:

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