Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. There are different types of this disease. The two most common are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. Melanoma, another type, is less common, but more dangerous. Nearly 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma each year, and it causes 8,700 deaths. Melanoma is now twice as common as it was two decades ago. The increase is so dramatic that the U.S. Surgeon General has issued a call to action to take steps to prevent melanoma.

One way to protect yourself from skin cancer is by protecting your skin from getting too much of the sun's ultraviolet light. It's especially important to avoid getting sunburned, as this increases the risk of melanoma. Using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing, including a hat with a brim, are good ways to do this.

While sun protection is important for adults, it's even more important for children. Most of the average American's sun exposure happens before age 18. Even a couple of blistering sunburns in childhood increase the risk of later skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Articles

Checking for skin cancer

Adequate sun protection when outside is the best way to protect against skin cancer. Yet, even if you are diligent about sunscreen, wear wide-brim hats and long-sleeve shirts, and stay in the shade whenever possible, it may not be enough. You still need to look for early signs of skin cancer, so you can alert your doctor. A regular skin self-exam is the best way to do this. By checking your skin regularly, you'll learn what is normal for you and can more easily note skin changes and abnormalities that require attention. According to the Harvard Special Health Report Skin Care and Repair, the best time to check your skin is after a shower or bath. Use a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror in a room with plenty of light. Follow these five steps to check yourself from head to toe: More »

Adapting to life after cancer

Once you’ve completed therapy, you may face a new set of challenges to your health and well-being, including late effects of treatment, the fear of recurrence, and altered relationships. Your health-care team can help you deal with them. (Locked) More »

5 skin spots you shouldn't worry about

Most skin spots that result from aging or sun exposure are harmless. However, it’s important to be able to distinguish them from solar keratoses, and various types of skin cancer, which require medical attention.   (Locked) More »

Protect your skin from the sun

When going outside for an extended period, one should use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. An SPF of 15 is right for shorter times outside. (Locked) More »

Basal cell carcinoma overview

Basal cell carcinoma, also called epithelioma, is the uncontrolled growth of the skin's basal cells. These are the cells that line the deepest layer of the epidermis, the skin's outermost layer. This type of cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body. It is mainly caused by repeated long-term exposure to sunlight. Light-skinned people who spent a lot of time in the sun as children, or who spend time in tanning booths, are especially susceptible. X-ray treatments for acne and exposure to industrial pollutants such as arsenic and hydrocarbons also increase the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in the United States, with nearly 3 million cases diagnosed each year. More »

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is a life-threatening type of skin cancer. Squamous cells are small, flat cells in the outer layer of skin. When these cells become cancerous, they typically develop into rounded skin tumors that can be flat or raised. Sometimes the skin around the tumor gets red and swollen. Squamous cell carcinoma can also occur on the penis or vulva. Squamous cell carcinoma sometimes develops from a precancerous skin growth called an actinic keratosis. The risk of developing this type of skin cancer is increased among fair-skinned and fair-haired people who have repeatedly been exposed to strong sunlight, individuals who had freckles as a child, and those with blue eyes. Other risk factors include taking immunosuppressants (drugs that weaken the immune system) and being exposed to industrial pollutants such as arsenic, tar, and industrial oils. Having had genital warts in the past is a major risk factor for genital squamous cell carcinoma. More »

Melanoma

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It occurs when pigment-making cells in the skin, called melanocytes, begin to reproduce uncontrollably. Melanoma can form from an existing mole or develop on unblemished skin. The most common type of melanoma spreads on the skin's surface. It is called superficial spreading melanoma. It may stay on the surface or grow down into deeper tissues. Other types of melanoma can start anywhere on or inside the body, including under fingernails or toenails and inside the eye. Melanoma rarely occurs before age 18. However, the risk of melanoma rises rapidly in young adulthood, making it one of the most common life-threatening forms of cancer in people between the ages of 20 and 50. After age 50, the risk of melanoma rises more slowly with advancing age. More »

Kaposi's sarcoma

Kaposi's sarcoma is a type of cancer caused by the human herpes virus 8. It appears as red or purple patches on the skin, mouth, lungs, liver, or digestive system. Kaposi's sarcoma was a rare and relatively harmless disease until the AIDS epidemic began. An aggressive form of the disease, AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, occurs in people with severely weakened immune systems. It is now the most common type of Kaposi's sarcoma. There are four main types of Kaposi's sarcoma: More »

Be proactive about sun protection

It appears that physicians rarely counsel people about sunscreen use—even people with a history of skin cancer. However, people should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen before heading outdoors, even in fall or winter. (Locked) More »