Basic Information About Skin Cancer

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the skin, it is called skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Some people are at higher risk of skin cancer than others, but anyone can get it. The most preventable cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds.

Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cell layer of the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous layer of the skin. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells that make melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color.
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common types of skin cancer. They begin in the basal and squamous layers of the skin, respectively. Melanoma, the third most common type of skin cancer, begins in the melanocytes.
Photo of a mother and child on the beach. Both are wearing sunglasses, hats, and long-sleeved shirts.
People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer.
Photo of skin moles or spots.
A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Not all skin cancers look the same.
Photo of a man wearing a hat.
Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. To lower your risk of getting skin cancer, you can protect your skin from UV rays from the sun and from artificial sources like tanning beds and sunlamps.
Photo of a doctor examining a mole on a woman's neck
Report any unusual moles or changes in your skin to your doctor. Also talk to your doctor if you are at increased risk of skin cancer.
Photo of a mother applying sunscreen lotion to her daughter.
While enjoying the benefits of being outdoors, people can decrease skin cancer risk by using sun protection. Protect yourself by staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying and re-applying a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.