Skin Cancer Appearance and Indicators

Skin Cancer is the Most Common Form of Cancer

woman checking skin for moles
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Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, affecting one in five Americans. Skin cancer is when there is an uncontrolled growth of cancer cells within your skin. While skin cancer is often considered by people to be less serious than other cancers, it can be quite dangerous. Skin cancer cells can spread to other organs and tissues, such as the lymph nodes. 

There are several different kinds of skin cancer, with different telltale signs on the skin:

  • Actinic Keratosis: Actinic keratosis shows up as a red or pink patch of skin on areas that are frequently exposed to the sun. It is one of the most common forms of pre-cancer and can lead to basal cell carcinoma. While it is uncommon, the marks from actinic keratosis can also be a signal of squamous cell carcinoma. 
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, making up over 80% of reported cases of skin cancer. It is a slow moving cancer that is often found on your head and neck. The skin will appear as a red or pink waxy bump. 
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer. The skin will appear red, rough and scaly. It is usually found on the hands, lips or ears, areas that are not often treated with sunscreen. 
  • Melanoma: Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, causing 75% of skin cancer-related deaths. Melanoma frequently appears as a mole or or lesion with irregular borders, asymmetrical shape, black or dark brown coloring and can grow over time. 

    Pictures of the different kinds of skin cancers are available below:

    Am I At Risk of Developing Skin Cancer?

    While there are many different types of skin cancer, they have many of the same causes and risk factors:

    • Fair Skin: While people with dark skin can get skin cancer, people with fair or pale skin are more at risk of skin cancer because of how easily they can get a sun burn. 
    • Sun Exposure: Frequent exposure to the sun without sunscreen or skin coverings can cause skin cancer. 
    • Family History: There is a link between genetics and your risk of developing skin cancer. 

    How Do I Prevent Skin Cancer?

    To avoid getting skin cancer, limit your exposure to the sun. Stay out of the sun particularly when it's strongest, between 10 a.m and 3:00 p.m. Regardless of the weather, wear sunscreen daily. If you will be outside for any length of time, reapply sunscreen regularly, wear long sleeves and stay under shade. It's also important to remain hydrated and to drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated. 

    You may also want to do at-home skin screenings to check for unusual or new marks that may have developed. Skin cancer is treatable, particularly if it's caught at the early stages, so early detection is key. Particularly if you are fair skinned, annual skin checkups with a dermatologist can help catch any signs of irregularities. 


    American Cancer Society. "Skin Cancer", 2015.  

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