Skin Cancer

Last updated: January 16, 2019

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States, is divided into nonmelanomas and melanomas.

  • Nonmelanomas (usually basal cell and squamous cell cancers) are the most common type of skin cancer. They are also the easiest to treat if found in time. These cancers are more common in older people.
  • Melanoma is less common than basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but it is far more serious. Melanoma is almost always curable in its early stages. If not caught early, it can spread to other parts of the body.

Warning Signs of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a serious disease that can cause scarring and even death. Inspect your skin often (at least every three months) and take note of all the spots on your body, from moles to freckles to age spots. Contact your health care provider if you see any change on one of your spots or you see any of these warning signs:

  • A new growth (such as moles, birthmarks or spots)
  • Sudden or progressive change in a mole, freckle or birthmark’s appearance
  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • A mole, bump or nodule that is scary, lumpy, crusting or bleeding, or takes on an irregular shape
  • Swelling, irritation, redness or spread of color into the skin near a mole, birthmark or freckle
  • Dark, freckle-like areas under a fingernail or toenail

Nonmelanoma cancers usually affect parts of the body that get the most sun, such as the forehead, nose or ears; but, melanomas can be anywhere on the body, even under the nails or between toes.

Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

There are some risks that you should be aware of for you and your family that you can control. It is important to remember that everyone is at risk for skin cancer regardless of race.

Risk Factors You Can Control

  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure is the main risk factor that causes skin cancer. UV radiation comes from the sun (even on cold or cloudy days), sunlamps and tanning beds. A person’s risk of skin cancer is related to a lifetime exposure to UV radiation. Skin damage happens when there is any change to the color in the skin, including tanning and burning.
  • A few bad sunburns can increase a child’s risk for skin cancer later in life.
  • Water, snow, sand and concrete can increase the exposure from reflected rays.

Risk Factors You Cannot Change

  • Personal past history of skin cancer
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Fair skin
  • Light-colored hair and eyes
  • Men are more likely to have skin cancer than women.

Screening Recommendations for Skin Cancer

It is important to check your skin regularly for signs of skin cancer. For more information on what to look for and screenings, click here.

For a list of free skin cancer screenings sponsored by American Academy of Dermatology, click here.

Sun Safety Recommendations

  • Avoid sun midday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when UV rays are strongest.
  • Cover up when outside in sunlight by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt and full-length pants. Seek shade on sunny days. Use an umbrella at the beach or pool and take breaks under a tree or other shaded area.
  • Use water resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 15-30 minutes before going outside daily, even on cloudy days. Remember to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and right after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Use a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Wear sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. Make sure prescription glasses have UV protection too.

For more sun safety tips go to www.GetSunSmart.org

More Information

For information regarding skin cancer, order a FREE Get Sun Smart Kit online or request one from the Learn To Live Line at 410-222-7979 or email hdltl@aacounty.org. Include your name and complete address.

View these websites for more information about skin cancer.

Skin Cancer in Spanish

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