Reducing your risk for non-melanoma skin cancer

You may lower your risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer by doing the following.

Be sun safe

The best way to lower your risk of developing skin cancer is to protect yourself from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Check the daily UV Index. Listen to the weather forecast to find out how strong the sun will be each day. Try to lower the amount of time you spend in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun’s rays are at their strongest, or any time of the day when the UV Index is 3 or more. In Canada the UV Index can be 3 or more from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. between April and September, even when it’s cloudy.

Seek shade or create your own shade. Cover up as much of your skin as you can with tightly woven clothes or clothes that are labelled UV-protective. Wear a hat with a wide brim that covers your head, face, ears and neck. Wear close-fitting sunglasses in a wraparound style that have UVA and UVB protection. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.

Take extra care when enjoying outdoor summer and winter sports, such as swimming, skiing and snowboarding. UV rays from the sun can be reflected by water, sand, pavement, snow and ice.

Protecting children from the sun may greatly reduce their lifetime risk of developing skin cancer. Protect babies from direct sunlight by keeping them in a covered stroller, under an umbrella or in the shade. Try to set a good example. If you practise sensible sun habits, your children will too.

Don’t use indoor tanning equipment

Indoor tanning equipment, such as tanning beds or sun lamps, gives off UV radiation that is up to 5 times stronger than the midday sun on a summer day. The Canadian Cancer Society believes that people under the age of 18 should not be allowed by law to use indoor tanning equipment.

Protect yourself from carcinogens

Find out more about substances that cause cancer and how you can avoid them in your home or at work. To lower your risk for non-melanoma skin cancer, try to avoid any exposure to arsenic and the following products:

  • coal and shale
  • industrial tar and pitch
  • creosote
  • chimney soot
  • paraffin

If you work with arsenic or these products, follow occupational health and safety measures. Wear appropriate equipment to lower your risk for non-melanoma skin cancer.

Reduce your contact with human papillomavirus (HPV)

The only sure way to prevent HPV infection is to completely avoid any genital contact with another person. If you are young, delay having sex. If you are sexually active, you can lower your risk of exposure to HPV by:

  • having as few sexual partners as possible
  • being in a monogamous relationship with someone who hasn’t had a lot of sexual partners
  • using a condom

Using a condom can lower the risk of HPV infection if it is put on before skin-to-skin sexual contact. But areas not covered by a condom still allow some skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. So using condoms will lower, but not eliminate, the risk of HPV infection.

Find out if you’re at high risk for non-melanoma skin cancer

Some people can have a higher than average risk for non-melanoma skin cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If you are at higher than average risk, you may need to visit your doctor more often for a skin exam to check for skin cancer. Your doctor will recommend how often you should have a skin exam.

Find out more about skin exams.

More information about preventing cancer

Learn what you can do to prevent cancer.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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