Prevention

Skin cancer prevention

Many factors can put you at higher risk for skin cancer. For instance, if you’ve spent a lot of time in the sun, you’re at higher risk. Unusual moles or having a lot of moles might be an early sign of cancer, too. Even some factors that are inherited — like having red or blonde hair — increases your skin cancer risk. 

At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), our dermatologists and skin specialists provide skin surveillance, or monitoring, for people with a history of melanoma

If you have not been diagnosed with a skin cancer, but you have questions or concerns about your skin or you have noticed an abnormality, our alliance partners in dermatology at the University of Washington Medical Center can help you.  

Melanoma Cancer that begins in the melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but it can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as the eye or the intestines. Sign In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. Some examples of signs are fever, swelling, skin rash, high blood pressure and high blood glucose. Surveillance Closely watching a patient’s condition but not treating it unless there are changes in test results. Surveillance is also used to find early signs that a disease has come back. In medicine, surveillance means closely watching a patient’s condition but not treating it unless there are changes in test results. Surveillance is also used to find early signs that a disease has come back. It may also be used for a person who has an increased risk of a disease, such as cancer. During surveillance, certain exams and tests are done on a regular schedule. In public health, surveillance may also refer to the ongoing collection of information about a disease, such as cancer, in a certain group of people. The information collected may include where the disease occurs in a population and whether it affects people of a certain gender, age or ethnic group.
“We are proud of our SCCA dermatology team that assesses people’s individual risk of developing skin cancers. This allows us to detect skin cancers early and to treat them most effectively.”
— Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD, Director, SCCA Skin Oncology Clinical Program

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) 

Most risk factors apply to all three major types of skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma). But some factors are associated only with nonmelanoma skin cancers and others only with melanoma

Melanoma Cancer that begins in the melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but it can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as the eye or the intestines.
How do I know if I’m at risk?

You are at increased risk for all three major types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) if any of the following apply to you. 

Inherited risks 

  • You have fair skin; blond, red or light brown hair; blue, green or grey eyes; or freckles.  
  • You have 50 or more moles. 
  • You have “funny-looking” moles that are larger than a pencil eraser and have multiple colors in them. 
  • You are sensitive to the sun, due to a genetic issue. 
  • One or more of your first-degree relatives (a parent, sibling or child) had skin cancer. The more family members who have had skin cancer, the higher your risk. 
  • You have xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare, inherited condition in which your body cannot repair DNA damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light. 

Environmental exposure 

  • You had several blistering sunburns as a child or teen, or you burn before you tan. 
  • You spend a lot of time outdoors for work or play. 
  • You work indoors all week and then are exposed to sun on the weekends — while playing, gardening or washing the car without a shirt on, for example. 
  • You live or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates and areas with year-round, bright sunlight. 
  • You live, work or vacation at high altitudes.  
  • You have used tanning beds, booths or sun lamps. 

Other causes 

  • You have been treated for skin cancer in the past. 
  • Your immune system is weakened because you are taking medications for an organ transplant, have AIDS or cancer or are on immunosuppressant medicines. 
  • You take any medicines that may be harmful when you are out in sunlight or make you more prone to sun damage. 
  • You are older. The risk of developing skin cancer increases with age, but young people can also get skin cancer, and children are extremely susceptible to sun damage. 

Learn About Melanoma Risk Factors

Learn About Merkel Cell Carcinoma Risk Factors

Are there lifestyle changes I can make to help reduce my risk?

Yes, but the earlier you start, the better. Skin damage occurs over time, and studies show that children tend to get 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure by age 18. We suggest using these safe sun practices: 

  • Limit your sun exposure and use sunscreen.  
  • Limit the amount of time you or your children are in the sun, especially between 10 am and 4 pm. This is when the sun’s UV rays, which cause sunburn and skin cancer, are strongest. 
  • Most sunburn can be prevented by using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. SPF tells you how long your skin can be in the sun and maintain a low risk for sunburn. The higher the SPF number, the longer it protects you from burning rays. For example, an SPF of 30 protects you for twice as long as an SPF of 15  
  • Wear sunglasses or a hat with a visor to protect your eyes. 
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, ears and neck. 
  • Consider wearing clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating of 50 or higher during outdoor activities, especially if you will be outside for a long time. 
“The early detection and treatment of skin cancer is critical to minimizing risks to your overall health. Our expert dermatology team is committed to careful skin surveillance and making sure we do our best to catch things before they get out of hand”
— Ata Moshiri, MD, MPH, Dermatologist/Dermatopathologist

Care team

Our team is made up of experts from a variety of specialties within SCCA and our alliance partners at the UW Medical Center. Learn about what each team member does.

Advanced practice provider

These health care professionals work closely with your physician. There are two types: physician assistants (PAs) and advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs). They help provide and coordinate your care and can see you independently from your physician.  

Nurse practitioner A registered nurse who has additional education and training in how to diagnose and treat disease. In cancer care, a nurse practitioner may manage the primary care of patients and their families. A registered nurse who has additional education and training in how to diagnose and treat disease. Nurse practitioners are licensed at the state level and certified by national nursing organizations. In cancer care, a nurse practitioner may manage the primary care of patients and their families, based on a practice agreement with a physician. Physician assistant A health professional who is licensed to do certain medical procedures under the guidance of a physician. A health professional who is licensed to do certain medical procedures under the guidance of a physician. A physician assistant may take medical histories, do physical exams, take blood and urine samples, care for wounds and give injections and immunizations.
Dermatologist

A dermatologist specializes in diagnosing and treating skin conditions. These medical professionals are also committed to skin cancer education and prevention.  

Registered nurse (RN)

Your nurse manages your care alongside your physician. They also assist with procedures and treatments. Nurses are resources for you and your caregiver. They answer questions and help with a wide range of topics, like how to cope with side effects or get other services you need at SCCA. 

Caregiver A person who gives care to people who need help, such as children, older people or patients who have chronic illnesses or disabilities. A person who gives care to people who need help taking care of themselves, such as children, older people or patients who have chronic illnesses or disabilities. Caregivers may be health professionals, family members, friends, social workers or members of the clergy. They may give care at home, in a hospital or in another health care setting. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.
Team coordinator

Your team coordinator works closely with you and your physician. They serve as your scheduler. 

Find care team profiles

Meet the caring, dedicated people who take care of you and your family at SCCA.

Coley J. Doolittle-Amieva, PA-C
Coley J. Doolittle-Amieva, PA-C
Physician Assistant
Advanced Practice Provider
Josiah  Hanson, MD
Josiah Hanson, MD
Physician
Dermatology
Ata S. Moshiri, MD, MPH, FAAD
Ata S. Moshiri, MD, MPH, FAAD
Physician
Dermatology
Paul T. Nghiem, MD, PhD
Paul T. Nghiem, MD, PhD
Physician
Dermatology
Song Y. Park, MD
Song Y. Park, MD
Physician
Dermatology
Michi M. Shinohara, MD
Michi M. Shinohara, MD
Physician
Dermatology
S. Max Vale, MD
S. Max Vale, MD
Physician
Dermatology