Health A-Z

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Because squamous cell carcinoma is caused by spending time in the sun, you can take steps to prevent it:

  • Apply sunscreen before you go outdoors. Choose one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least15. Be sure it protects against both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays.

  • Use sunblock on your lips. Choose one made for the lips, with an SPF of at least 20.

  • Stay out of the sun when it is strongest. This is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Wear sunglasses that protect again ultraviolet light.

  • Wear long pants, a shirt with long sleeves, and a wide-brimmed hat.

If you take prescription medications and you spend significant time outdoors, ask your doctor if you need to take any extra precautions. Some drugs increase your risk of skin damage. These include certain antibiotics and medications used to treat mental illness, high blood pressure, heart failure, acne, and allergies. Also, some skin-care products contain alpha-hydroxy acids. These chemicals can make your skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun.

If a squamous cell carcinoma develops on your skin, you can limit the damage by detecting the problem early. To do this, examine your skin thoroughly every month or two. Use a mirror to look at your back, shoulders, and other areas you can't easily see.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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