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How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer?


Cancer is uncontrolled growth and division of cells leading to a growth, mass, or tumor, which can spread to other parts of the body. There are many different types of cancer, but the most common is Skin Cancer, which is more common than all other types of cancer combined.

Each year there are more than one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the United States. Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, claims the life of about one person every hour in the United States. More than 90% of all skin cancers are caused by too much sun exposure. Just one or two severe sunburns during childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of getting melanoma later in life.

Did You Know?

You don’t have to be very old to get skin cancer. Although skin cancer is often associated with people of advanced age, this is no longer the case with melanoma. About one in four people who develop melanoma are under the age of 40. Melanoma is now the most common form of cancer in women aged 25 to 29 and rates of pediatric (childhood) melanoma, while still rare, have doubled in the last few years.

Types of Skin Cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma- is the most common type of skin cancer, usually appearing on the face and ears. About 75% of all skin cancers are basal cell.  This type of skin cancer is the easiest to treat and cure, as it usually does not spread to other parts of the body.  However, if left untreated, basal cell carcinoma can cause considerable disfigurement and can be much more difficult to remove.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma-is the next most common type of skin cancer, appearing on sun-exposed parts of the body. It represents about 20% of all skin cancers. It is more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma and may spread (metastasize) to sites elsewhere in the body. More than 2,000 people die each year from squamous cell carcinoma.

Melanoma –is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, but the least common, representing about 5% of all skin cancer diagnoses. Unfortunately, melanoma is the most rapidly increasing cancer of all.  While rates of other types of cancer have declined in recent years, rates of melanoma are still rising, doubling in the last 30 years. The dangerous thing about melanoma is that it can metastasize to other body organs if not detected and treated early. With early diagnosis and treatment, the cure rate is very high while at later stages, the cure rate drops significantly.

Who is at Risk for Skin Cancer?

Everyone is at some risk for skin cancer. Although people with lighter skin tones are at greater risk, people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are susceptible.  In African-Americans, melanoma may occur in lighter pigmented areas of the skin such as the palms, the soles and under the nails.  Although they are at less risk for developing melanoma, when it is diagnosed, it is often at a later stage when the cure rate is low.

What are the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer?

A risk factor is an inherited trait or behavior that increases your risk for a particular disease or condition.  There are several risk factors for skin cancer: some you cannot control, as they are genetic (inherited) and some you can control, as they are behavioral.

Genetic risk factors:

  • Naturally red, blond or light brown hair color
  • Light eye color – blue, gray or green
  • Fair or light skin that burns or freckles easily
  • Many moles on your body (more than 100), irregular moles, or large moles
  • Family history – blood relatives who have had skin cancer

Behavioral risk factors:

  • History of sunburns– just two severe sunburns as a child or adolescent doubles your risk of developing melanoma later in life.
  • History of sun exposure without sun protection during outdoor work or play
  • History of using tanning beds

The Good News

Skin cancer is the most preventable cancer. While you can’t control what genes you inherited from your parents, you can control your behavior. Avoiding burning from the sun and from tanning beds can prevent skin cancer. See How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer? to learn how.

See Also:

Skin Cancer Fact Sheet (PDF)

The Truth About Tanning Beds (PDF)

10 Ways To SunGuard Your Skin (PDF)

Learn More:

Visit Related Links to see where you can learn more about skin cancer.

Page last updated on November 30, 2010


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