Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. More than 2 million cases are diagnosed each year. About half of Americans will have skin cancer at least once by the time they are 65.
Skin Cancer Types
The two most common kinds of skin cancer are:
Basal cell carcinoma:
- More than 90% of all skin cancers
- Slow-growing and seldom spreads
- If left untreated, can spread and invade bone and other tissues under the skin
Squamous cell carcinoma:
- Can be more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma
- Is more likely to grow deep below the skin and spread to distant parts of the body
These types of skin cancer sometimes are called nonmelanoma skin cancer. When they are found early, they can almost always be cured.
Other Types of Skin Cancer
Actinic (solar) keratosis: A precancerous condition that can develop into squamous cell carcinoma. It appears as rough, red or brown, scaly patches on the skin. They are often more easily felt than seen. Like skin cancer, actinic keratosis usually is found on sun-exposed areas of the body, but it can be found on other parts of the body as well.
Melanoma: A cancer that begins in the cells that produce skin pigment. It is less common than basal or squamous cell skin cancers, but it is more dangerous and can be deadly. If caught early, there is nearly a 97% chance for cure.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting skin cancer is a risk factor.
Sun damage is the main risk factor for skin cancer. Artificial sunlight from tanning beds causes the same risk for skin cancer as natural sunlight. There is no such thing as a safe tan.
Other risk factors for skin cancer include:
- Age: The longer you are exposed to the sun over time, the higher your risk of developing skin cancer
- Fair complexion, blond or red hair, freckles, blue eyes and/or a tendency to sunburn
- Previous skin cancer
- Living in a sunny climate
- Working around coal tar, arsenic compounds, creosote, pitch and paraffin oil
- Previous skin injuries, such as a major scar or burn
- Actinic keratosis, a precancerous condition of thick, scaly patches of skin
Not everyone with risk factors gets skin cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.
Research shows that many cancers can be prevented if people applied everything known about cancer prevention to their lives.
Some people have an elevated risk of developing cervical cancer. Review the skin cancer screening guidelines to see if you need to be tested.
Behavioral and lifestyle changes can help prevent skin cancer. Visit our prevention and screening section to learn how to manage your risk.
In rare cases, skin cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.