Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, and it’s the most preventable cancer. Most skin cancer is caused by damage from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV rays).

Each year, more than 76,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma—the most dangerous type of skin cancer—and nearly 10,000 will die of the disease. In addition, more than two million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer annually—either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.

Protecting your skin during your first 18 years can reduce your risk of some types of skin cancer by up to 78%.

Recent research on the benefits of vitamin D (made by the skin from sunlight) indicates that just a brief exposure of your face, arms and hands to the sun is sufficient—about 15 minutes a day, three days per week. Talk to your health care professional about Vitamin D and your health.

Risk Factors

You might be at increased risk for skin cancer if you:

  • Spend time in the sun or use sun lamps or tanning booths
  • Smoke
  • Have blond, red or light brown hair and blue, gray or green eyes
  • Have fair skin, freckles or skin that burns easily
  • Have a personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Have certain types of genetic problems that affect the skin
  • Have been treated with radiation
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have several moles on your body, especially if you have had some moles since you were born
  • Have odd moles or one or more large colored spots on your skin
  • Have had contact with certain chemicals, such as arsenic in drinking water
  • Have skin that is damaged from injury or from long-term inflammation
  • Have human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Had sunburns as a child

Men are more likely than women to get non-melanoma skin cancer. People who have paler skin tones are more likely to develop melanoma than are those with darker complexions. However, anyone with any skin color may develop skin cancer. The risk for skin cancer increases you get older.


Talk with your health care professional if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • A mole or other growth you haven’t noticed before
  • Change in the border of a spot, spread of color, redness or swelling around the area.
  • A small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump that may bleed
  • Large areas with oozing or crust
  • A flat red spot or a lump that is scaly or crusty
  • Itchiness, tenderness or pain from a mole or elsewhere on your skin
  • A brown or black colored spot with uneven edges


  • Avoid the sun, especially between 10 am and 4 pm when its brightest
  • Don’t use sun lamps or tanning beds
  • Always use sunscreen and lip balm with UVB and UVA protection with SPF 30, even on cloudy days
  • Apply an ounce of sunscreen—a palm full—20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every two hours if in continuous sun
  • Wear sunglasses that have been treated to absorb UV radiation, a wide brim hat and clothing made of tightly woven material with long sleeves
  • Protect children from the sun. Childhood sunburns may increase the risk of melanoma later in life.

Watch our videos to learn about more ways you can prevent skin cancer.

Early Detection

  • Look at your skin once a month. Tell your health care professional about any changes.
  • Beginning at age 50, have your health care professional examine your skin once a year

When looking at moles, remember the ABCDE rule:

Asymmetry (one half of the mole doesn’t match the other)

Normal Mole – Abnormal Mole

Border irregularity

Normal Mole – Abnormal Mole

Color that is not uniform

Normal Mole – Abnormal Moles

Diameter greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)

Normal Mole – Abnormal Mole

Evolving size, shape or color

If you notice any CHANGE in size, shape or elevation of a mole, or experience any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting, see your health care professional promptly.

Speak to a cancer prevention specialist.

Our representatives will help you get the right information.

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Treatment Options

Skin cancer treatment depends on the type and stage of the skin cancer. The most common types of treatment for skin cancer are:

  • Surgery
  • Various chemotherapies
  • Radiation
  • Biological drug treatments

Other possible treatments include:

  • Immunotherapy (for melanoma skin cancer)
  • Photodynamic therapy (for non-melanoma skin cancer)


Additional Resources

Fact Sheet
Skin Cancer Fact Sheet (English)
Download the PDF (157kb)
Skin Cancer Fact Sheet (Spanish)
Download the PDF (157kb)
Guide to Prevent Cancer
Download the Guide
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PSA Video
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