Skin Cancer Awareness & Sun Safety Information

AAccording to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US(a).  There are three main types of skin cancer, which are named for the skin cell where the cancer develops—Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma. A large body of research now provides clear evidence that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary risk factor for skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

The most frequently occurring form of skin cancer, BCCs are uncontrolled growths or lesions that develop in basal cells—the deepest layer of cells in our outer skin (epidermis). BCCs usually appear as open sores, red patches or pinkish growths. Although they almost never spread beyond the original tumor site, BCCs can be disfiguring if allowed to spread(b).

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

The second-most common form of skin cancer, SCCs are characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells of the skin's upper layers. SCCs can appear as scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts that crust or bleed. Although not usually deadly, SCCs can be very disfiguring if left untreated(c).


Although least common, Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and will strike an estimated 87,110 people in the US in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only a fraction of melanomas come from preexisting moles. A Cornell University study(d) published in 2017, has shed new light on what causes the majority of melanomas. As with Basal Cell and Squamous carcinomas, long-term overexposure to the sun's UV radiation can safely be considered the primary risk factor for developing melanoma.


Detecting Skin Cancer

Get familiar with your skin and your own pattern of moles, freckles, blemishes, and birthmarks. Check your skin MONTHLY, and be alert to changes in the number, size, shape, or color of spots on your skin or sores that do not heal. The best time to do this simple exam is after a bath or shower. Use a full-length mirror AND a hand mirror so you can check your skin from head to toe, noting anything new.

Face the Mirror

Check your face, ears, neck, chest, and belly. Check both sides of your arms and the tops and palms of your hands.

While Seated

Check the front of your thighs, shins, tops of your feet, and in between your toes. Now look at the bottom of your feet, your calves, and the backs of your thighs—first one leg, then the other. (You will need a hand mirror for the backs of your thighs.)

Using a Hand Mirror

Use the hand mirror to check the buttocks, lower back, upper back, and the back of the neck. (It may be helpful to look at your back in a tall mirror rather than by using a hand mirror.) If you do the exam regularly, you will know what is normal for you and can feel confident. Remember the warning signs and check with your health care professional or dermatologist if you find something. The most common skin cancers—basal cell and squamous cell—often take form of a pale, wax-like, pearly nodule, a red scaly, sharply outlined patch, or a sore that does not heal. Another form of skin cancer—melanoma—often starts as a small, mole-like growth.