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Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Protection, Detection, and How Primary Care Screenings Can Be Key

April 26, 2022
Eric Matheson, M.D., MSCR

Protection, Detection, and How Primary Care Screenings Can be Key

More than five million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, making skin cancer the most commonly occurring cancer in the United States. Due to the abundant sunshine in South Carolina, you need to be diligent about wearing sunscreen and should discuss the best ways to protect your skin with your primary care provider.

Primary care is the first line of defense for many cancers, including skin cancer. A health care provider can check for moles, birthmarks, or other unusual spots with special attention to those that have changed in size, color, or shape. For those at high risk of skin cancer (family history of skin cancer, previous skin cancer, weakened immune system), an annual full-body skin exam by your primary care physician is recommended.


Avoiding excessive ultraviolet light exposure is the most important step you can take to reduce your risk of skin cancer. Please adopt the safety tips outlined below to avoid excessive UV exposure.

  • Seek shade, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear sun protective clothing and accessories, like a broad brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses
  • Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30+
  • Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds: More people develop skin cancer due to indoor tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.


Early detection is key, which is why screenings are so important. 

Patients at high risk of skin cancer (family history of skin cancer, previous skin cancer, or a weakened immune system) should perform a monthly skin self-exam. The exam should be performed in front of a full-length mirror with good lighting. Care must be taken to visualize the entire body, which may require a handheld mirror. If you find any irregularity in your skin, such as a new bump, mole, spot, wart, or a scaly red patch — or new changes in old irregularities — be certain to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.

What happens if your doctor finds something suggestive of skin cancer? The next step is to get a skin biopsy, which will determine whether or not you have skin cancer. If you have cancer and it was not completely removed by the skin biopsy, a follow-up appointment will be scheduled to completely remove the skin cancer.

The Burden of Skin Cancer

Here are a few more general facts you should know about skin cancer:

  • Twenty percent of Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
  • Every day more than 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer.
  • Your risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doubles after only five sunburns or one blistering sunburn.
  • Indoor tanning causes more than 419,000 skin cancer cases annually, including 6,200 melanomas.
  • With early detection, the five-year melanoma survival rate is 99 percent.

Don’t forget your primary care physician can integrate skin cancer screenings and guidance about skin protection into your preventative health visits or at any visit if you have a concern about skin cancer. 

Source: Skin Cancer Foundation. Accessed 26 April 2021.