Skin Cancer: Let’s Talk Awareness, Survivorship, & Support

May 17, 2022
A young woman wears a white hat and carries a blue umbrella to shield her face from the sun

Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in May 2021 and has been updated.

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States? It accounts for roughly half of all cancer cases. Many celebrities have had the disease, including Hollywood stars Hugh Jackman, Diane Keaton, and Ewan McGregor. The good news is that you can minimize your risk of developing skin cancer by following a few simple actions. You can also take steps to catch skin cancer early by monitoring the signs and symptoms and being proactive with your healthcare provider. When detected early, skin cancer is highly treatable.

Skin cancer often begins as an unusual, uncontrolled growth on the skin. Specific skin cancers are named for the type of cell that is affected. There are 4 major types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (most common) – It starts in the top layer of the skin called the epidermis. Most of the time, basal cell carcinoma can be removed and treated. But sometimes it can grow back.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (second most common) – It develops in the flat squamous cells that make up the outer layer of the skin (called the epidermis).
  • Melanoma – It begins in the melanocytes. These are cells that make the pigment melanin. Melanomas often start in moles on the skin.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma (very rare) – It forms when Merkel cells grow out of control. It can also be called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin or trabecular cancer.

While anyone can get skin cancer, it is more common among people with light or fair skin color. Specific risk factors depend on the type of skin cancer. The most common risk factors include:

  • Exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) radiation from tanning booths
  • Frequent blistering sunburn, especially early in life
  • Having 50 or more moles
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • Possible genetic factors, such as family history or mutations in certain genes
  • History of radiation therapy
  • Exposure to high levels of arsenic

 

Tips for Skin Cancer Prevention & Early Detection

Frequent, unprotected exposure to sunlight — which emits UV radiation — can lead to skin cancer. So, one simple step you can take to help reduce your risk of developing the disease is to limit your exposure to sunlight. When you are in the sunlight for extended periods of time, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher. For additional protection, wear a wide-brim hat and a long-sleeve shirt, and don’t forget sunglasses to protect the skin around your eyes.

Eating healthy is another simple step you can take. Research suggests that antioxidant-rich foods, including colorful fruits and vegetables, may help boost people’s protection against skin cancer.

"UV rays can reach you on cloudy and cool days, and they reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow. In the continental United States, UV rays tend to be strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you have any risk factors for skin cancer, consider scheduling routine skin exams with a dermatologist. You can also do monthly head-to-toe self-checks at home. Check all the surfaces of your skin and look closely at your moles so that you can tell if they begin to change in shape, size, or color. Follow the ABCDEs of skin cancer as a guide:

  • Asymmetry: The shape of one half of the mole does not match the other.
  • Border: The edges are often tagged, blurred or irregular in outline.
  • Color: The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue also may be present.
  • Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase.
  • Evolving: Changes in size, shape, color, or elevation, or any symptoms such as bleeding, itching, or crusting. 

The Skin Cancer Foundation provides detailed instructions on how to do a skin check.

Talk with your healthcare provider if you notice changes or anything unusual on your skin, or if you have a sore or patch of skin that won’t heal.

 

Skin Cancer Resources & Support

If you are living with skin cancer or are a caregiver to someone with skin cancer, we offer a variety of resources to help ease the burden of your journey.

"My suggestion is find a [support] group if you haven’t, and if you have, participate. It is helpful."

— Lisa, metastatic melanoma survivor