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Skin Cancer Archive

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Stay ahead of skin cancer

Updated September 1, 2019

Learn to spot an actinic keratosis before it becomes cancerous.

About 58 million people have at least one actinic keratosis (AK), a precancerous skin growth caused by too much sun exposure.

Yet most people don't see the potential danger in these lesions because they are small, with few if any annoying symptoms, and can go away almost as fast as they appear.

Is your sunscreen safe?

Updated August 1, 2019

Although some sun-blocking chemicals may enter the body, there's no reason yet to change sunscreen practices.

Some common sunscreen ingredients are under new scrutiny. In May, researchers announced results of a study finding that some of these commonly used chemicals are absorbed into the body in higher amounts than previously known. The FDA now plans to investigate whether these common ingredients are still safe at these higher levels.

"This study reminds us that even products we put on our skin have the potential to be absorbed throughout the body," says Dr. Jennifer Lin, an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Melanoma Risk and Prevention Clinic at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Even so, the study didn't find that these chemicals are harmful or that sunscreen is unsafe.

Zinc oxide shows no link to skin damage

Updated April 1, 2019

In the journals

Zinc oxide (ZO) is one of the most effective ingredients in sunscreen, but previous studies have suggested it could potentially damage skin cells. Now, a small study in the February 2019 Journal of Investigative Dermatology has found that ZO nanoparticles don't penetrate the skin or damage skin on a cellular level even with repeated applications.

ZO is one of 17 active sunscreen ingredients approved by the FDA. ZO offers broad-spectrum protection and shields against both UVB rays, which cause sunburn, and UVA rays, which penetrate more deeply and are more likely to damage cell DNA and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Do all skin cancers have to be removed?

Updated March 1, 2019

Ask the doctor


 Image: © AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Q. My doctor says I have a small skin cancer on my scalp, but it's not melanoma. Do I really need to have it removed?

A. It's true that melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, because it can spread throughout the body. You definitely need to have any melanoma removed, to try to excise it before it spreads. Two other types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are more common than melanoma. It sounds like you have one of those. They spread only rarely, but they do grow larger. Not only is this disfiguring, but delay in removing them makes it harder to remove them with only a minimal scar. And cancers on the scalp, when they become large, can be particularly hard to remove.

What kind of sun protection is best for babies, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women?

Updated August 1, 2018

Ask the doctors

Q. Should pregnant or breastfeeding women and their children use sunscreen?

A. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people avoid applying sunscreen to the skin of babies younger than 6 months of age, and instead shield them from the sun, keeping them in the shade as much as possible. It's also a good idea to protect them from the sun using clothing, hats, and sunglasses.

Sunscreen in a pill?

Updated August 1, 2018

Research we're watching

The FDA is warning consumers not to buy in to the idea that a pill can protect your skin from the sun.

In a statement issued May 22, FDA officials said they've found companies selling pills that are labeled as dietary supplements and that claim to protect skin from the sun.

Save your skin from cancer

Updated July 1, 2018

Rates of the two most common skin cancers have more than doubled over the past decade. Here's how to protect yourself.

When it comes to skin cancer, there's good news and bad news. First, the bad news. A report published in the June 2017 Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) skin cancers have risen 263% and 145%, respectively, over the past decade.

The good news? BCC and SCC are rarely life-threatening and they're usually easy to treat if they're caught early. Plus, there are simple ways to prevent them.

The science of sunscreen

Updated February 15, 2021

Misinformation about sunscreen is common. Don't let myths deter you from using it to protect your skin.


 Image: © wragg/Getty Images

If you've ever searched online for information about sunscreen, what you found may have made you feel less than sunny about slathering on these lotions and creams. Sunscreen is designed to protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays, but some of the claims made about it suggest it could do more harm than good.

Assertions include everything from statements that sunscreen is ineffective to warnings that it's outright dangerous. Some writers even go as far as to state that sunscreen may cause skin cancer, thanks to a purported harmful cocktail of toxic ingredients. That's enough to darken your day.

Safety of LED nail lamps

Updated April 19, 2021

Ask the doctors

Q. I was worried about drying my nails with a lamp or light box at the nail salon because of the potential risk of cancer from the ultraviolet radiation, but my salon recently switched to LED lamps. Are they safer?

A. The light boxes used to cure polish during gel manicures, and to dry traditional nail polish, have raised some concern because — like tanning beds — they emit ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which is associated with a higher cancer risk. A 2014 study in JAMA Dermatology found that the level of UVA exposure associated with a gel manicure every two weeks probably isn't high enough to increase the risk of skin cancer significantly, but you are wise to be aware of the issue.

Prescription cream may lower risk for repeat skin cancers

Updated April 1, 2018

In the journals

A prescription cream called 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, sold as Adrucil and other brands) may help people reduce their risk for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), according to a study published in the Jan. 3, 2017, JAMA Dermatology. SCC, the second most common cancer in the United States, strikes twice as many men as women.

Researchers recruited 932 people, 98% of whom were men, with an average age of 71. Each had experienced at least two skin cancers — SCC, basal cell carcinoma (BCC, the most common skin cancer), or both — on their face or ears within the past five years. They were randomly assigned to receive either the 5-FU cream or a placebo cream. Everyone applied a thin layer twice a day to their face and ears for up to four weeks. Over the course of a year, the 5-FU group had a 75% lower incidence of SCC compared with the placebo group. They also had a 11% lower incidence of BCC, but this difference was not statistically significant. It's not known why 5-FU helped prevent SCC but not BCC, according to the researchers.

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