Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer is more common than any other type of cancer and the number of cases is rising in the United States.

Risk Factors

People of all skin colors and races get skin cancer, though those with light skin have a higher risk.

Other risk factors include:

  • Sunburns
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to x-rays
  • Scarring from a disease or burn
  • Exposure to cancer-causing compounds such as arsenic
  • Use of indoor tanning beds or sunlamps

Types of Skin Cancer

  • Actinic Keratosis (AK)
    These dry, scaly patches or spots are considered the earliest stage of skin cancer development. Without treatment, AKs may progress to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
    The most common type of skin cancer, BCC frequently appears as a flesh-color bump or pinkish patch of skin. BCC does not usually grow quickly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. However, treatment is needed to prevent damage to surrounding tissue and the possibility of spreading.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
    SCC, the second most common type of skin cancer, usually has a red inflamed base with either a firm bump, scaly patch or an ulcer that heals and re-opens. Early treatment can prevent damage and disfigurement and stop SCC from spreading to other parts of the body. Learn more about Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
  • Melanoma
    According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 75 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma, making it the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma frequently develops in a mole or appears suddenly as a new dark spot on the skin. With early detection and treatment, melanoma has a high cure rate, so it is important to examine the skin for signs of melanoma in moles or new spots. Learn more about warning signs and get additional information about Melanoma.

The Importance of Early Detection and Treatment

All types of skin cancer have a high cure rate with early detection and treatment. In BCC and SCC that rate is about 95 percent. Regular skin exams are vital for finding early skin cancers.

  • Self-exams
    Individuals should become familiar with their own skin and any existing moles, freckles or “beauty marks,” then examine the entire body about once a month for signs of any changes in these or new spots that appear suddenly, which should be reported to your dermatologist. Having a partner help you examine your skin can be helpful.
  • Dermatologist skin exams
    Regular skin exams by a dermatologist are an important way to detect early-stage skin cancer. People with a higher risk of skin cancer should have the skin examined by a dermatologist for potential skin cancer at least once a year or more often if recommended. Suspicious growths are removed for biopsy to detect cancer.

If a biopsy confirms a growth is cancerous, more treatment may be needed. A dermatologist can recommend options from an array of medical and surgical treatments based on the type of skin cancer, its size and location, and the patient’s needs.


Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers. Protecting the skin from over-exposure to the sun can decrease the risk significantly. Learn more about sun protection at The Sun and Your Skin.