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There is no sure way to prevent all basal and squamous cell skin cancers. Some risk factors such as your age, sex, race, and family history can’t be controlled. But there are things you can do that could lower your risk of getting these and other skin cancers.
The most important way to lower your risk of basal and squamous cell skin cancers is to limit your exposure to UV rays. Practice sun safety when you are outdoors.
Simply staying in the shade is one of the best ways to limit your UV exposure.
This catchphrase can help you remember some of the key steps you can take to protect yourself from UV rays. If you are going to be in the sun:
Just like UV rays from the sun, the UV rays of tanning beds are harmful. Tanning lamps give off UV rays, which can cause long-term skin damage and can contribute to skin cancer. Most skin doctors and health organizations recommend not using tanning beds and sun lamps.
Children tend to spend more time outdoors and can burn more easily, so they need special attention to protect their skin. Parents and other caregivers should protect children from excess sun exposure by using the steps above. Children also need to be taught about the dangers of too much sun exposure as they become more independent.
To learn more about UV exposure and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, see How Do I Protect Myself from Ultraviolet (UV) Rays?
Exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic, can increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. People can be exposed to arsenic from well water in some areas, pesticides and herbicides, some medicines and imported traditional herbal remedies, and in certain occupations (such as mining and smelting).
Checking your skin regularly may help you spot any new growths or abnormal areas and show them to your doctor before they even have a chance to turn into skin cancer. To learn more, see Can Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers be Found Early?
Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of squamous cell skin cancer, as well as to many other types of cancer. If you are thinking about quitting smoking and need help, call the American Cancer Society for information and support at 1-800-227-2345.
Having a weakened immune system increases your risk of getting skin cancer. It can also make skin cancers harder to treat.
Infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can weaken the immune system. You can lower your risk of skin cancer, as well as many other types of cancer, by avoiding known risk factors for HIV infection, such as intravenous (IV) drug use and having unprotected sex with many partners.
Some people, such as those with autoimmune diseases or who have had organ transplants, might need to take medicines meant to suppress their immune system. Other people might need medicines that weaken their immune system as a side effect, such as chemotherapy to treat cancer. For people who need these medicines, the benefit from taking them will likely far outweigh the small increased risk of getting skin cancer.
Some people at increased risk for skin cancer, such as people with certain inherited conditions or a weakened immune system, might be helped by medicines that could lower their risk (known as chemoprevention).
Doctors are studying many drugs that might lower risk, although these are not commonly used at this time. To learn more, see What’s New in Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancer Research?
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Christensen SR, Wilson LD, Leffell DJ. Chapter 90: Cancer of the Skin. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.
Lim JL, Asgari M. Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma: Primary and secondary prevention. UpToDate. 2023. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/cutaneous-squamous-cell-carcinoma-primary-and-secondary-prevention on August 23, 2023.
National Cancer Institute. Skin Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. 2023. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/hp/skin-prevention-pdq on August 23, 2023.
Wu PA. Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical features, and diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma. UpToDate. 2023. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/epidemiology-pathogenesis-clinical-features-and-diagnosis-of-basal-cell-carcinoma on August 22, 2023.
Xu YG, Aylward JL, Swanson AM, et al. Chapter 67: Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.
Last Revised: October 31, 2023
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