Be Aware: Understanding Your Risk of Developing Skin Cancer

As we approach the summer months and find ourselves outdoors, it’s important to enjoy the sun responsibly. With May being Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Patients Rising has put together a brief guide to improve awareness around prevention and diagnosis of skin cancer.

Basic Skin Cancer Facts

Types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma


  • In 2022,
    • >57,000 men and >42,000 women are estimated to be receive a diagnosis of skin cancer. This is primarily melanoma, because basal and squamous cell types are not well documented.
    • Almost 12,000 deaths from skin cancer estimated
  • Melanoma rates have been rising rapidly over the past 30 years
    • Incidence is declining among adolescents but has been increasing among older age groups
  • Skin cancer rates are higher among women than men <50 years 
  • Skin cancer rates are higher among men than women >50 years 
  • Non-Hispanic whites are 30-times more likely to have skin cancer compared to non-Hispanic black or Asian/Pacific Islanders 
  • Mortality is primarily from melanoma
  • Children and adolescents account for 1-4% of all melanomas, but are often misdiagnosed, which can lead to delayed treatment

Risk Factors:

  • Lighter complexion
  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, especially if a person’s skin is sensitive to UV radiation
    • Both natural (sun’s rays) and artificial (sunlamps, tanning beds) UV rays can pose a danger
  • Specific for non-melanoma skin cancer:
    • Weak immune system
    • Past radiation treatment
    • Arsenic exposure
  • Specific for melanoma skin cancer:
    • Blistering sunburns at a younger age
    • Moles on the body
    • Family history of unusual moles
    • Family or personal history of melanoma

Prevention and Diagnosis

The use of sunscreen has not been proven to protect against skin cancer, but experts recommend the following measures:

  • Use sunscreen that protects against UV rays
  • Avoid extended periods of exposure to the sun
  • When outdoors, wear clothing that covers your skin, along with a hat and sunglasses 

Additionally, periodic screening—self-screen and by a trained health care provider—can help prevention and early diagnosis of skin cancer. This would typically be a visual exam to check for moles, birthmarks, or other pigmented areas that are unusual in color, size, shape, or texture. 

Free Screening Program:

The American Academy of Dermatology has offered a free skin cancer screening program since 1985, simultaneously educating on the importance of sun protection and early detection. You can find a local screening location here.

Insurance Coverage for Screening

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires Medicare and private insurance plans to cover certain cancer screening tests, not all plans will cover all screening tests. It’s best to confirm with your insurance company if your skin cancer screening test will be covered.

Medicare Part B may cover the cost of preventive screening and testing for skin cancer, as well as a doctor’s visit to check any abnormal spots on your skin. If your doctor refers you to a dermatologist for additional evaluation, that may also be covered. For Medicare Advantage plans, it’s best to contact your plan provider to understand coverage benefits.

Similarly, if you are enrolled in a private health plan or a self-funded health plan from your employer, it’s best to contact your insurance provider to confirm if:

  • Skin cancer screening is completely covered
  • If not completely covered, what would your share of the cost be

Additional Resources

Series developed by the American Medical Association on skin cancer:

Surabhi Dangi Garamella

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.

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