What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

To reduce your chances of developing skin cancer, it is important to know the risk factors, symptoms and treatment options.

The majority of skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as the sun and tanning beds. Overexposure can cause sunburns as well as a change in skin texture, causing the skin to prematurely age. UV rays have also been linked to eye conditions like cataracts.


You do not need to avoid the sun completely, but you should avoid getting too much sun. Seek shade, especially when the sun is at its strongest — between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Other ways to limit sun exposure include wearing protective clothing like long sleeved shirts, hats, and pants, using sunscreen every day, wearing sunglasses and avoiding artificial UV sources such as tanning beds and sunlamps.

Special attention should be paid to children as they tend to spend a lot of time outdoors, are likely to burn more easily and are not aware of the risks. All prevention tips listed above should be applied to children. Additionally, children should be taught the dangers of too much sun exposure as they get older so they can independently protect themselves. Babies younger than six months should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected from the sun by protective clothing and hats.

The American Cancer Society recommends that individuals perform a skin self-exam of the entire body once a month. Look for new or changed growths, spots, bumps, patches or sores that don’t heal. If you find something suspicious on your skin, visit your doctor.

Types of Skin Cancer

The most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, both of which are highly curable but can be disfiguring and expensive to treat. The third most common skin cancer — melanoma — is the most dangerous and can result in death. These three skin cancers are largely the result of overexposure to UV light.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, responsible for about eight out of 10 cases of skin cancer. It appears mostly on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck, and grows slowly. Basal cell skin cancer appear as flat, firm, pale or yellow, similar to a scar; raised reddish patches that could itch; small pink or red shiny bumps that may have blue, brown or black areas; pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in the middle; or open sores that could be oozing or have crusted areas, which do not heal or reoccur.

If not removed completely, the cancer can come back and people who have an instance of basal cell are likely to have more in the future.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell cancers account for two out of 10 skin cancer diagnoses. They most commonly appear on sun-exposed parts of the body. They may appear as rough or scaly red patches that could crust or bleed; raised lumps or growths, sometimes with indented centers; open sores that may be oozing or crusted that do not heal or reoccur once healed; or wart-like growths.

Basal and Squamous Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors include:

  • UV light exposure
  • Being older, although these cancers are increasingly common in younger people
  • Being male
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, like arsenic, coal tar, paraffin and some oils
  • Radiation exposure
  • Previous skin cancer
  • Long-term or severe skin inflammation or injury
  • Psoriasis treatment that includes UV light
  • Weakened immune system
  • HPV
  • Smoking

Basal and Squamous Skin Cancer Treatment

If you are diagnosed with basal or squamous cell skin cancer, consider your treatment options and which one is best for your. Based on the type and stage of the cancer and other factors, treatment options may include:

  • Surgery
  • Other forms of local therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Systemic chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy

Melanoma Skin Cancer

While less common, melanoma skin cancer is more likely to grow and spread, making it more deadly. Most melanoma tumors are black or brown, and are more likely to develop on the trunk for men and legs for women.

The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in shape, color or size. It may also look different than all the other spots on your skin. If you have any of these warning signs, have your skin examined by a physician.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing melanoma include:

  • UV light exposure
  • Moles
  • Fair skin, freckling and light hair
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Personal history of melanoma or other skin cancers
  • Weakened immune system
  • Being older
  • Being male

Depending on the stage of the cancer and other factors, treatment options for melanoma include:

  • Surgery
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

If caught early, melanoma can be treated by surgery alone, but more advanced cases typically require other treatments.

Source: American Cancer Society