Learn the Skin Cancer Basics

Knowing more about skin cancer can help you stay healthy and safe. Most skin cancers are treatable if found early. Basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma are the most common types of skin cancers; learn more about these diseases and what you can do to prevent and detect them.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and is very treatable. It’s usually found in areas exposed to the sun, like the head, neck, and arms. Basal cell carcinomas are abnormal growths that form in the the outermost layer of the skin. The American Cancer Society describes basal cells as open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars. Although it’s rare, basal cell can spread to other parts of the body. If it’s not treated it can spread into nearby areas and into the bone or other tissues under the skin.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Similar to basal cell carcinoma,  squamous cell carcinoma is usually found on areas exposed by the sun like the face, ears, neck, lips, and backs of the hands. It’s more likely for this type of cancer to spread to other parts of the body than basal cell, although this is still uncommon. These cancers can appear as rough scaly red patches, raised growths or lumps, open sores that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back or wart-like growths.


Melanoma is a less common cancer than basal and squamous cell cancers, but it is more likely to grow and spread. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin, but are more likely to start on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women. Melanomas can often look like moles. They are usually black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white.

Prevention and Early Detection

Most skin cancers are caused by repeated and unprotected skin exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight and tanning beds. Limiting exposure to UV rays can help reduce your risk for developing skin cancer. Avoiding smoking and exposure to harmful chemicals, like arsenic, is another way to protect your skin from these diseases.

Finding skin cancer early can significantly increase the chances of successful treatment. The U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends that people who are concerned about getting skin cancer or who notice any changes to their skin should talk to their doctor. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risks factors for skin cancer: a change in the appearance of moles,a severe sunburn in the past, a history of skin cancer, use a tanning bed, or a family history of melanoma.

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