Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Support
Did you know that May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month? Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, accounting for roughly half of all cancer cases. It often begins as an unusual, uncontrolled growth on the skin.
Specific skin cancers are named for the type of cell that is affected. Major types of skin cancer include:
- Basal cell carcinoma: Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It starts in the top layer of the skin called the epidermis. Most of the time, BCC can be removed and treated. But sometimes it can grow back.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. It develops in the flat squamous cells that make up the outer layer of the skin (called the epidermis).
- Melanoma: Melanoma is a type of cancer that begins in the melanocytes. These are cells that make the pigment melanin. Melanomas often start in moles on the skin.
- Merkel cell carcinoma: Merkel cell carcinoma is a very rare type of skin cancer that forms when Merkel cells grow out of control. It can also be called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin or trabecular cancer.
1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
Anyone can get skin cancer, but 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 radiation from tanning booths
- Frequent blistering sunburns, 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
Signs & Symptoms
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. Do monthly skin checks—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 half.
- 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 visible.
- 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.
"Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade."
Skin Cancer Resources and Support
If you are living with skin cancer or are a caregiver to someone with skin cancer, the Cancer Support Community offers a variety of resources to help ease the burden of your journey.
- Visit our Skin Cancer webpage for more information about the disease, including risk factors, testing, treatment options, and how to cope.
- Connect with our Cancer Support Helpline by phone or online via our live chat service. Our experienced Helpline staff are here to offer free support and coaching for cancer patients or their loved ones.
- Create a private support website where you can document your journey and receive support from friends and family along the way.
The Cancer Support Community believes that community is stronger than cancer. We are a relentless ally for anyone who strives to manage the realities of this disruptive disease, so that no one faces cancer alone. Be sure to check our blog section often as we share more news, stories, and inspiration to help support you on your journey.