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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.

What Is Skin Cancer?

The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable, but can be disfiguring and costly to treat. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous and causes the most deaths.

Photo of a mother and child on the beach. Both are wearing sunglasses, hats, and long-sleeved shirts.

What Are the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer?

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.

What Are the Symptoms for Skin Cancer?

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 man wearing a hat.

What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer?

Protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach. CDC recommends easy options for protection from UV radiation.

Photo of grandparents holding a baby.

What Screening Tests Are There?

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.

How Can I Protect My Children from the Sun?

Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life. Kids don’t have to be at the pool, beach, or on vacation to get too much sun. Their skin needs protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays whenever they’re outdoors.

Photo of a senior couple gardening.

Are There Benefits to Spending Time Outdoors?

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.

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