Understanding Skin Cancer: Facts, Prevention, and Early Detection

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, with millions of cases diagnosed each year. However, it is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to learn more about this disease, its risk factors, and how you can protect yourself!


There are three main types of skin cancer:

  1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): This is the most common form of skin cancer. It typically appears as a shiny, pink, or red bump on the skin that may bleed easily.
  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This type of skin cancer often appears as a red, scaly patch or a sore that does not heal. It can also look like a wart.
  3. Melanoma: Although less common than BCC and SCC, melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It often appears as a new spot on the skin or a change in an existing mole.


Several factors can increase your risk of developing skin cancer, including:

  • Excessive Sun Exposure: UV radiation from the sun is the primary cause of skin cancer. Limiting your time in the sun and using sunscreen can help reduce your risk.
  • Fair Skin: People with fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes are at higher risk of developing skin cancer.
  • History of Sunburns: A history of blistering sunburns, especially during childhood, increases your risk later in life.
  • Tanning Beds: Using tanning beds significantly increases your risk of skin cancer, especially melanoma.
  • Family History: A family history of skin cancer in first degree relatives can put you at higher risk.


Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer:

  • Use Sunscreen: Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day, even on cloudy days. Reapplication is key to protection with sunscreen – make sure to reapply at least every 2 hours.
  • Seek Shade: Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats to protect your skin from the sun.
  • Avoid Tanning Beds: Tanning beds emit UV radiation, which can increase your risk of skin cancer by 75% after one session.

Early detection is essential to successful treatment of skin cancer. Perform regular skin self-exams to look for any new or changing moles, spots, or lesions on your skin. If you notice anything suspicious, see a dermatologist promptly. For those with risk factors, such as a personal/family history of skin cancer or childhood sunburns, see a dermatologist annually for a formal full body skin exam.

Skin cancer is a serious disease, but it is also highly preventable. By taking easy steps to protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays and performing regular skin exams, you can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Remember, early detection is crucial, so if you notice any changes in your skin, don’t hesitate to see a dermatologist!


Chelsea Beer, PA-C