Sun safety and melanoma: What you need to know

Sun safety and melanoma: What you need to know

This article was originally featured in Brigham Health Hub.

    Written by:

    Vinod E. Nambudiri, MD, MBA, Resident, Department of Dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Instructor in Dermatology at Harvard Medical School.

Did you know that skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States each year? In fact, one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lifetime.

The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, followed by melanoma and other skin cancers. When identified early, almost all skin cancers can be cured with treatment.

“Learning the ABCDEs of skin cancer is important in identifying, treating, and preventing skin cancer,” says Vinod Nambudiri, MD, a dermatologist in the BWH Department of Dermatology. “People can look for signs of skin cancer in moles or skin lesions using these letters―and a self-skin exam is quick, easy, and free.”


A – Asymmetry: One half is unlike the other half.

B – Borders: Irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.

C – Color: Varied from one area to another (shades of tan or brown, black, red, white, or blue).

D – Diameter: Measures 6mm or larger (size of a pencil eraser).

E – Evolution: Looks different from the rest or is changing in size, color, or shape.



To perform a self-skin exam, find a full-length mirror and a hand mirror. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, raise your arms and examine your body front and back, then your right and left sides. Next, bend your elbows, looking carefully at your forearms, the back of your upper arms, and your palms. Then, examine the back of your legs and your feet, including the spaces between your toes and the soles. Using your hand mirror, examine the back of your neck and scalp, while lifting and parting your hair. Finally, using the hand mirror, examine your buttocks. In addition to regular self-skin exams, you should also have a skin exam by your primary care physician or a dermatologist each year.

To prevent skin cancer, understand the risk factors. These include sun exposure, use of indoor tanning devices, age, prior skin cancer or family history, and other health conditions. Using sunscreen and limiting exposure to the sun during peak sun hours (between 10 am and 4 pm) by seeking shade and avoiding direct sun are the easiest ways to help prevent skin cancer.

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher every day, even in the winter and on cloudy days. Apply liberally and reapply every two hours. Also, wearing sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection, as well as a wide-brimmed hat, is recommended.

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