What is skin cancer?
It’s an abnormal growth of skin cells, which is usually caused by the sun’s harmful rays.
Caught early, skin cancer is highly treatable.
Is it contagious? No
Skin cancer is the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations. These mutations lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. The main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC).
Skin Cancer Causes
The two main causes of skin cancer are the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and the use of UV tanning beds. The good news is that if skin cancer is caught early, your dermatologist can treat it with little or no scarring and high odds of eliminating it entirely. Often, the doctor may even detect the growth at a precancerous stage, before it has become a full-blown skin cancer or penetrated below the surface of the skin.
1 OUT OF 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.
Skin Cancer Prevention
UV radiation from the sun isn’t just dangerous, it’s also sneaky. Not only can it cause premature aging and skin cancer, but it also reaches you even when you’re trying to avoid it – penetrating clouds and glass, and bouncing off of snow, water and sand. What’s more, sun damage accumulates over the years, from prolonged outdoor exposure to simple activities like walking the dog, going from your car to the store and bringing in the mail.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Don’t get sunburned.
- Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating. Find sunscreen by searching our Recommended Products.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.
Type of Skin Cancer
The type of skin cancer a person gets is determined by where cancer begins. If cancer begins in skin cells called basal cells, the person has basal cell skin cancer. When cells that give our skin its color become cancerous, melanoma develops.
1. Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) are abnormal, uncontrolled growths that arise from the skin’s basal cells in the outermost layer of skin (epidermis).
Basal cell carcinoma cancer most often develops on skin areas typically exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back.
BCC is the most common form of skin cancer, with approximately 3.6 million cases diagnosed in the United States each year.
2. Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising from the squamous cells in the outmost layer of skin (epidermis).
SCCs are common on sun-exposed areas such as the ears, face, scalp, neck and hands, where the skin often reveals signs of sun damage, including wrinkles and age spots.
SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer. An estimated 1.8 million cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.
Melanoma is cancer that develops from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin pigment, which gives skin its color.
Melanomas often resemble moles and sometimes may arise from them. They can be found on any area of the body, even in areas that are not typically exposed to the sun.
Melanoma is often triggered by the kind of intense, intermittent sun exposure that leads to sunburn. Tanning bed use also increases the risk for melanoma.
In 2021, more than 207,390 new cases of melanoma are expected to occur in the U.S., about 106,110 of which will be invasive.
Skin Cancer Treatment
If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, you’re likely facing decisions that can be overwhelming or hard to understand. Be sure to speak with your medical team in detail about your diagnosis and treatment options, and ask for clarification on anything you are uncertain about.
Disease-specific treatment information
To help you navigate this complex landscape, our skin cancer treatment pages provide physician-reviewed information about your options. Because the types of treatments vary widely and are specific to the type of condition you have, review the treatment page that matches your diagnosis:
- Actinic Keratosis Treatment
- Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment
- Melanoma Treatment
- Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatment
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment
Each treatment page also includes links to our Skin Cancer Treatment Glossary for more detailed information on the medications and procedures used to treat patients with skin cancers and pre-cancers.
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