Of all the cancers that humans can get, skin cancer is the most common.  In the United States, skin cancer is increasing in all races.

Who gets skin cancer?

People of all colors and races get skin cancer.  Those with light skin who sunburn easily have a higher risk.  Risk factors include: sunburns, family history of skin cancer, exposure to x-rays, weakened immune system, scarring caused by a disease or burn, and exposure to cancer-causing compounds such as arsenic.  Using indoor tanning devices such as tanning beds and sunlamps also increases the risk of developing skin cancer.

What does skin cancer look like?

There are different types of skin cancer, and each tends to look a bit different.

ACTINIC KERATOSIS (AK)

These dry, scaly patches or spots are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer.  In rare cases an AK can progress to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carhoma (SCC).  People who get AKs usually have fair skin.  Most people see their first AKs after 40 years of age because AKs tend to develop after years of sun exposure.  But even teens can have AKs when they live in sunny areas or use indoor tanning.  AKs form on skin that get lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms.  Because AKs increase the risk of getting SCC, AKs are usually treated.  Proper use of sunscreen can help prevent AKs.

BASAL CELL CARCINOMA (BCC)

This is the most common type of skin cancer.  It frequently looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump.  It also can appear as a pinkish patch of skin.  Like AKs, BCC develops on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the head, neck, arms.  Many BCC’s also form on the trunk and lower limbs.  While BCC frequently develops in people who have fair skin, it can occur in people with dark skin.  BCC usually does not grow quickly, and it rarely spreads to other parts of the body.  But it should be treated promptly.  This cancer can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.

SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA (SCC)

SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer.  This skin cancer often looks like a firm b ump, scaly patch, or an ulcer that heals and then re-opens.  SCC is usually reddish in color.  It tends to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms and trunk.  People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC, but it can also develop in dark-skinned people especially those who have scarring.  Because SCC can grow deep, it can cause damage and disfigurement.  Early treatment can prevent this and stop SCC from spreading to other areas of the body.

MELANOMA

This skin cancer frequently develops in a mole or appears suddenly as a new dark spot on the skin.  Either way, melanoma can be deadly.  Every year more than 8,500 Americans (nearly one person per hour) die from melanoma, making melanoma the deadliest form of skin cancer.