Being diagnosed with any type of cancer is a frightening experience. But a diagnosis of skin cancer may be particularly scary, because in many cases, the patient has limited knowledge about what contributes to the condition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignant form of cancer in the United States, surpassing lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer. In fact, more than 1 million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in 2007, the National Cancer Institute reports.

Preventing Skin Cancer

The best way for a person to avoid skin cancer, or prevent a recurrence, is to minimize his or her exposure to UV rays, especially during midday (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), when the sun's rays are at their strongest and can do the most damage.

Although sunscreens can provide some protection, experts are quick to point out that they're not a license to bake in sun. If you do use sunscreen, be sure to use a broad-spectrum variety with the highest possible SPF and ingredients such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone (Parsol 1789). And remember that sunscreen needs to be reapplied generously and often (every three to four hours, and after swimming or strenuous activity). Along these lines, there is really no such thing as a healthy tan, and contrary to what some may claim, tanning beds are not a safe alternative to tanning outdoors.

Understanding Your Risk Factors

Anyone can get skin cancer, and there are several factors, in addition to UV exposure, that can increase your risk, including:

  • having very fair skin that burns easily;
  • having more than 50 moles on your body;
  • having had skin cancer before; or
  • having close relatives who have had skin cancer.

Research into malignant melanoma suggests that overexposure to UV rays in childhood puts people at risk of getting melanomas later in life. What's more, exposure to radiation or long-term exposure to chemicals, such as coal tar, soot, pitch, asphalt, creosote, paraffin wax, or arsenic, can increase your risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Treatment Options

After being diagnosed with skin cancer, there are a variety of treatments available, including:

  • surgery to remove to remove the tumor;
  • radiation therapy to shrink or eliminate cancer cells; and
  • topical chemotherapy of medication placed directly on the skin.

Treatment options vary depending on the type of skin cancer the patient has, and medical professionals can offer information on the most effective treatments for specific diagnoses, as well as possible side effects.

Following treatment for skin cancer, patients should thoroughly examine their skin at least once a month for any lesions or growths. Family members or friends can help check areas that may be difficult to see, such as the back, neck, or backs of legs. Follow-up visits with a medical professional are usually scheduled every six months to check for cancer recurrence or spread, or to discuss possible side effects of certain treatments.

Finding Support

After being treated for skin cancer, patients may experience fear or anxiety that the cancer will return. Friends and family are a wonderful resource, but it may also help to join a support group, where members can share practical information and success stories. Talking with others who have been through similar experiences can be an effective way to deal with worry or fears of recurrence.