Educate patients on how to prevent and identify skin cancer

Underuse of Sunscreen

Teaching patients to check for skin cancer is as easy as ABCDE

In brief:

  • At least 1 in 5 of your customers will have skin cancer in their lifetime
  • Multiple factors increase skin cancer risks, including common prescriptions
  • Most patients don’t understand the risks and don’t apply adequate sun protection
  • Your pharmacy can shine a light on prevention, educate patients and boost sales

Many patients are in the dark about the risks of the sun.

The health risks of the sun

While breast and lung cancer receive most attention, more people will experience skin cancer than all other cancers combined.1 In the past 30 years, the numbers have risen dramatically. More than:

  • 5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer annually.2
  • 90% of melanomas are caused by overexposure to UV radiation, either from natural or artificial sources.3
  • 58 million have actinic keratosis, the most common pre-cancer skin condition.

Several factors increase the risk of skin cancer:

  • 1 sunburn in childhood or 5 in teen years about doubles the risk of melanoma.
  • Prescriptions like cholesterol-lowering drugs, oral contraceptives and antibiotics increase sun sensitivity.
  • OTC products such as antihistamines and cosmetics can increase the risk of sun damage.4
  • Being outside around water, snow or concrete can increase the damage from sun because of the reflected light.
  • People of color, older people and those with less education often think their risk for skin cancer is low. As a result, they often aren’t diagnosed until cancer is at later stages.5

Underuse of sunscreen

Sunscreen works. Regular sunscreen use reduces the risk of melanoma by 50–73%.6 However, sunscreen is underused. While sunscreen use is on the rise, less than 75% of adults use it regularly. Younger women and men lag behind.7

Regular sunscreen use reduces the risk of melanoma by 50–73%

Source: CDC

Even more worrisome, just 1 in 10 high school students use sunscreen when they should.8


1 in 10 high school students uses sunscreen when they should

Source: CDC

Educate about prevention

The most common forms of sun prevention are sunscreen, shade and protective clothing.

Stock and then help patients find the sunscreen that suits their needs. For example, athletes will look for a product that won’t run and burn their eyes when they sweat, and women tend to prefer one with moisturizing properties. Take time to understand customers’ needs.

Merchandising idea

Set up a sunscreen sampling station at a community event, where you can talk with patients and they can try before they buy. Remind them to apply sunscreen:













At least 15 minutes before going outside

About the equivalent amount as a shot glass

Including ears, neck, hands, feet and hairline, plus a lip balm with SPF protection

About every 2 hours

In addition to sunscreen, highlight products in your pharmacy that provide sun prevention, including:

  • Sun shades
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun-protective clothing
  • Sunless tanners

Educate about detection

Remind patients to have doctors examine their skin during annual checkups and show them what to look for themselves each month. The signs of melanoma are as easy as ABCDE:9

  • Asymmetry in a mole or birthmark.
  • Borders that are irregular or ragged.
  • Color that varies and may include shades of black and brown, as well as white, pink, red or even blue areas.
  • Diameter larger than ¼ inch, about the size of an eraser on top of a pencil
  • Evolving, with changes in size, shape or color

Other warning signs: a spot that itches, hurts, crusts or bleeds, or an open sore that doesn’t heal within three weeks.

A poster with photos in your waiting area could tip off many patients that they need to schedule an appointment to have a suspicious mark checked by a professional. See these photos showing the ABCDEs of melanoma.10

Communicate and engage in outreach

As you prepare for summer, include messages about sun protection in your marketing, community outreach and patient counseling.

  • Target patients. Just as you might remind med sync patients to get flu shots in the fall, talk with those on medications that increase sun sensitivity about sun protection.
  • Take education to the community. In addition to discussing sun protection on all marketing and social media channels, promote sun protection through local, grassroots efforts. Ask lifeguards at swimming pools or announcers at community league baseball games to remind folks every two hours to reapply sunscreen.
  • Work with providers. Let providers in your community know about all of your pharmacy’s sunscreens and sun protection products. Go beyond just dermatologists to inform primary care providers, pediatricians and gerontologists that your pharmacy is prioritizing sun protection this summer and helping to educate patients about skin cancer. This is just one more way to build credibility as a knowledge provider that is focused on improving community health.

Encourage patients to enjoy the summer and spend time outdoors. But also emphasize sun protection and prevention and early detection of possible cancer. Highlight these topics in your counseling, marketing and outreach efforts this summer.


Note: The information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice by McKesson. Readers should consult appropriate professionals for advice and assistance prior to making important decisions regarding their business. McKesson is not advocating any particular program or approach herein. McKesson is not responsible for, nor will it bear any liability for, the content provided herein.
1 “Skin Cancer Facts and Statistics,” Skin Cancer Foundation, April 27, 2019. LINK
2 “Cancer Facts and Figures 2019,” American Cancer Society, Jan. 8, 2019. LINK
3 Sunscreen Facts, Melanoma Research Foundation, retrieved May 2, 2019. LINK
4 “The Sun and Your Medicine,” Food and Drug Administration, Sept. 25, 2015. LINK
5 “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014. LINK
6 Sunscreen Facts, Melanoma Research Foundation, retrieved May 2, 2019. LINK.
7 “Sun Protection,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oct. 31, 2018. LINK
8 Ibid. LINK
9 “How to Spot Skin Cancer,” Stacy Simon, American Cancer Society, May 1, 2019. LINK
10 The ABCDEs of Melanoma, Melanoma Research Foundation, May 1, 2018. LINK