6 Things to Know About Skin Cancer

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on September 17, 2020
  • Cumulus clouds with sun flare
    Facts About the Most Common Type of Cancer
    Skin cancer affects more Americans than any other type of cancer. The good news is that skin cancer grows on the outside of your body. So if you know what to look for, you can catch it early—when it's very curable. The most common cause of skin cancer is the ultraviolet—or UV—light that comes from the sun and from tanning beds. Here are six more things you should know about skin cancer.
  • Sunburned surfer
    1. Anyone can get skin cancer.
    About one of every five Americans will develop it during their life. Exposing your skin to a lot of UV light raises your risk. And UV light from indoor tanning is even more dangerous than natural sunlight. In general, your risk is also higher if you have light skin and hair, burn rather than tan, or had sunburns when you were young. Other risks include having a family member who has had it or you've already had it.
  • Dermoscopy
    2. There are three main types of skin cancer.
    The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. This type grows slowly and rarely spreads from your skin. The next most common skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. It can spread to other parts of your body if not caught early. Melanoma is the third main type of skin cancer. It's much less common than the other two, but it's much more dangerous. Most people who die from skin cancer have melanoma.
  • Women fixing hair in bathroom
    3. Catching skin cancer early is key, so check your skin regularly.
    The best time to do a skin self-exam is after a bath or shower. You will need good lighting and a mirror to check places that are hard to see. Check your entire body, even your scalp and the soles of your feet. Look for any new skin growths, changes in existing moles or freckles, or sores that bleed or don’t heal. Your doctor should check anything that grows, changes or bleeds.
  • Medical laser
    4. Skin cancer is highly curable.
    The most common types of skin cancer are all curable if you catch and treat them early. Even melanoma—the most dangerous type—is almost 100% curable if you treat it before it spreads. The best treatment for you will depend on your type of cancer and how far along it is. Minor surgery is often enough to treat basal and squamous cell cancers. In some cases, doctors put medication on your skin to remove the cancer. Laser surgery and freezing are other options.
  • Solar cream / sunscreen
    5. The key to preventing skin cancer is avoiding exposure to UV light.
    All types of skin cancer are more likely to show up on skin that gets sun. Exposing your skin to a tanning lamp or tanning bed makes this even more likely and may cause skin cancer at an early age. Getting sunburned also raises your risk. Whenever you're in the sun, use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to reduce your chances of getting skin cancer.
  • man-in-bathroom-looking-at-mirror
    6. Actinic keratoses are a red flag for skin cancer.
    AKs are skin changes from UV light damage that can lead to squamous cell skin cancer. AKs can look like age spots, rough scaly areas, or raised, red bumps. AKs sometimes itch or burn and may fade in winter and reappear in summer. If you have AKs, see a dermatologist. Your doctor may remove them with treatments like chemical peels or freezing. You should also avoid the sun and use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 when you're outside.
6 Things to Know About Skin Cancer

About The Author

  1. Actinic Keratosis. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/actinic-keratosis
  2. Basal Cell Carcinoma. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/basal-cell-carcinoma
  3. Basic Information About Skin Cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/
  4. How Are Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers Treated? American cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-basalandsquamouscell/detailedguide/skin-cancer-basal-and-squ...
  5. How to Check Your Skin. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin/page15
  6. Skin Cancer. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/q---t/skin-cancer
  7. Skin Cancer Facts. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
  8. Squamous Cell Carcinoma. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/q---t/squamous-cell-carcinoma
  9. What Are the Risk Factors. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.