Skin cancer is on the rise, but not in the way you’d expect

Think you're being smart about the sun? Sure, you apply sunscreen to your face every day, or choose a moisturizer with added SPF of at least 30, but do you remember to cover the rest of your body too? Do you remember to apply it even when it's cloudy? Do you protect yourself with sunglasses and a hat when you're outdoors at a festival or at the beach? Granted, though many of us did come of age during the era of tanning beds and have now become much more aware of the dangers of sun exposure and the importance of wearing an SPF, skin cancer rates are still on the rise.

Research by the Mayo Clinic shows that two types of non-melanoma skin cancer have increased pretty significantly in recent years. They reported that squamous cell carcinoma diagnoses increased a whopping 263 percent between 2000 and 2010. And another common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, increased 145 percent.

Researchers found that women 30 to 49 saw the greatest increase in basal cell carcinoma (BCC) diagnoses. BCC appears like a small, pearly or waxy bump on your skin — it can look like a zit or a small mole and is usually pinkish or flesh-toned in color. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 4 million cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, making it the most "frequently occurring" form of skin cancer.

As for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), it usually presents itself like a wart, and it might bleed if scratched or bumped. It's the second most common form of skin cancer. Both BCC and SCC can be removed and don't often spread past the tumor site when detected and treated early, but it's important to be aware of what you can do to prevent skin cancer in the first place. (You're not safe from the sun while driving, either, so don't forget the SPF on your next summer road trip.)

"Even though there is so much awareness about using sunscreen, most people don't use it on a daily basis," says Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist in New York City, and assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. "Since UV rays penetrate the skin every day rain or shine, it is very important to use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen every day. This ultraviolet light causes skin cancer."

If you're terrified of the idea of getting skin cancer but still insist on that base tan every summer, Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Founder and Director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Associate Clinical Professor at the Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, urges you to reconsider. "Every time you get tan the skin is saying 'S.O.S! I'm being damaged so I'll get darker.' There is NO level of tanning that is safe and does not cause damage to the skin. Getting a tan is getting skin damage, and that damage can come back to bite you in the form of skin cancer," she warns.

To avoid as much sun damage as possible, "avoid the sun at its strongest (between 10am and 4pm), liberally apply SPF 30 or above every two to three hours while in the sun, use a hat, sunglasses, sun-protective clothing and seek shade whenever possible," Dr. Tanzi urges.

Luckily for us, there are tons of great sunscreens on the market, from innovative spray formulas to get all those hard-to-reach areas (hello, upper back!) to easily blend-able facial sunscreens, so you don't really have an excuse not to wear it daily.

Related: Breast-cancer fighting foods

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What should you put on your plate? Experts recommend the following...

Five Fruits And Veggies

Eat five or more servings of a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits every day. Don’t be shy with produce: Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute recommend up to 13 servings, or 6½ cups, of fruits and vegetables a day to keep us slim and to fight a range of diseases.

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Whole Grains

Choose whole grains over processed (refined) grains for extra fiber to spur weight loss; these will help steady your blood sugar levels as well, and avoid insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.

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A Low-Fat Diet

Follow a low-fat diet. Studies link a high-fat diet to more aggressive forms of breast cancer. A low-fat diet — one where 30 percent or less of your calories come from fat — also helps prevent recurrence. Choose foods with healthy fats for an extra brain- and heart-health boost: Opt for fish and nuts, for instance, over fried foods and those high in saturated fat.

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Antioxidants

Get antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, not supplements. Antioxidants are nutrients — namely vitamins C and E, carotenoids and other plant compounds (phytochemicals) — that protect against cell damage that may lead to cancer. Research has shown that people who eat lots of produce, a naturally rich source of antioxidants, have a lower risk for certain cancers but that antioxidant supplements (which contain high concentrations of specific nutrients) do not reduce risk.

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Avoid Alcohol

Drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Some studies indicate that less — or none at all — is best for breast cancer protection. Women with estrogen-receptive breast cancer should avoid alcohol altogether due to its potential effect on estrogen. If you do drink, make sure you get adequate folic acid, or folate. Too little of this B vitamin may increase the risk of breast cancer, especially in women who drink alcohol. Leafy greens, beans, whole grains and fortified cereals are all good sources.

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Avoid Fried Food

Limit intake of meats that have been fried, barbecued, cooked well-done, preserved (by smoking or salting) or processed (like deli meats that contain nitrates). These cooking methods are linked to heightened breast cancer risk.I

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Tea

Some studies show that people who drink green tea, and to a lesser extent black tea, which is high in a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, have lower cancer risk. But researchers don’t know if the cancer protection comes from drinking tea itself or if tea drinkers have other healthy habits that reduce their risk. (Caffeine may worsen symptoms of fibrocystic breast lumps in some women, but there is no evidence that it increases the risk of breast cancer.)I

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Organic Food

Though it is an area of debate and strong personal views, there is no conclusive evidence that eating organic reduces cancer risk. However, there may be other reasons you want to eat organic food, and it certainly won’t increase your risk.

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Vitamin D And Calcium

High levels of vitamin D and calcium may offer some protection against the most aggressive kinds of breast cancer but only in premenopausal women, emerging research shows.

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