Skin Cancer Frequently Asked Questions

How common is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the United States. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Research estimates that nonmelanoma skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, affects more than 3 million Americans each year. That is more than the number of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer cases combined.

What are the different types of skin cancer?

Basil Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, with nearly three million cases diagnosed annually in the U.S. Early diagnosis and treatment for BCC is important. BCC can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement. This form is rarely fatal.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer. More than 700,000 cases of SCC will be diagnosed each year in the U.S., resulting in more than 2,500 deaths. SCC tend to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back. SCC can grow deep in the skin and cause damage and disfigurement. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent this and stop SCC from spreading to other areas of the body.

Melanoma is third most common form of skin cancer. Melanoma is also the deadliest. It accounts for approximately three percent of all skin cancer diagnoses and is responsible for more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma frequently develops in a mole or suddenly appears as a new dark spot on the skin. Early diagnosis is crucial.

What are the risk factors for the different types of skin cancer?

Basil Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Chronic Sun Exposure
  • Light Skin Color
  • Family or Personal History of Skin Cancer

Melanoma

  • Presence of Moles and Freckles
  • History of Severe Sunburn Early in Life
  • Light Skin Color
  • Family or Personal History of Skin Cancer

What's the relationship between sunburns, tanning, and skin cancer?

It's a common misconception that sunburn means trouble, while a tan is a sign of good health. In reality, tan skin is actually a sign of damage. The skin darkens as a response to injury caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays. Tanning is caused by the production of more melanin, the pigment that colors the skin. When skin has been hurt by the sun, it moves more melanin to the surface to combat the damage.

Sunburns can greatly increase your chance of developing skin cancer, particularly when those burns occur at an early age.

Is it true that different skin types have different reactions to sun exposure?

Yes. There are six recognized skin types to measure a person's susceptibility to skin cancer.

  • Type I
    Always burns, never tans. Extremely sensitive to the sun.
  • Type II
    Burns easily, tans minimally.
  • Type III
    Burns moderately, tans gradually to light brown.
  • Type IV
    Burns minimally, always tans well to moderately brown.
  • Type V
    Rarely burns, tans profusely to dark.
  • Type VI
    Never burns, deeply pigmented, least sensitive.

People with skin types I and II are at the highest risk for skin cancer.

What should I look for when examining myself for signs of skin cancer?

Be aware of any changes in moles, spots or freckles on your skin. Warning signs to be particularly aware of include:

  • Changes in color
  • Changes in size and thickness
  • Changes in texture
  • An irregular outline
  • Anything bigger than the size of a pencil eraser (1/4")
  • Spots or sores that itch, hurt, scab or bleed
  • Open sores that do not heal within three weeks

What should I do if I spot any of these warning signs?

See a physician specializing in skin diseases immediately. Do not overlook a warning sign because it does not hurt. A lack of pain can still be dangerous.

Visit the links below for more information and statistics:

The Skin Cancer Foundation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
American Academy of Dermatology 





Page last updated: December 20, 2019