American Cancer Society Resources

Cancer Observance Calendar


Skin Cancer Awareness Month


Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you have skin cancer, it is important to know which type you have because it affects your treatment options and your outlook (prognosis). If you aren’t sure which type of skin cancer you have, ask your doctor so you can get the right information. There are several different types of skin cancer. The most common are Basal and Squamous Cell, Melanoma and Lymphoma.


Basal and Squamous Cell – These cancers are most often found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, and arms, but they also can occur elsewhere. They are very common but are also usually very treatable. Risk factors: Having light-colored skin. Anyone can get skin cancer, but people with light-colored skin have a much higher risk than people with naturally darker skin color. This is because the skin pigment melanin has a protective effect in people with darker skin. White people with fair (light-colored) skin that freckles or burns easily, blue or green eyes, and naturally red or blonde hair are at especially high risk. Albinism is an inherited lack of protective skin pigment. People with this condition may have pink-white skin and white hair They have a very high risk of getting sunburns and skin cancer, so they need to be careful to protect their skin. Being older increases the risk of getting basal and squamous cell skin cancers. This is probably because of the buildup of sun exposure over time. These cancers are becoming more common in younger people as well, probably because they are spending more time in the sun with their skin exposed. Being male – Men are more likely than women to get basal and squamous cell cancers of the skin. This is thought to be due mainly to getting more sun exposure.


Melanoma – Melanoma is less common than some other types of skin cancer, but it is more likely to grow and spread. Risk factors: Moles – A mole is a benign (non-cancerous) pigmented tumor. Most moles will never cause any problems, but someone who has many moles is more likely to develop melanoma. The chance of any single mole turning into cancer is very low. However, anyone with lots of irregular or large moles has an increased risk for melanoma. Family history of melanoma. Your risk of melanoma is higher if one or more of your first-degree relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, or children) has had melanoma. Around 10% of all people with melanoma
have a family history of the disease. Fair skin, freckling, and light hair. The risk of melanoma is much higher for White people than for African Americans. People with red or blond hair, blue or green eyes, or fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at increased risk. A person who has already had melanoma has a higher risk of getting melanoma again. People who have had basal or squamous cell skin cancers are also at increased risk of getting melanoma. Being older – Melanoma is more likely to occur in older people, but it is also found in younger people. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30 (especially younger women). Melanoma that runs in families may occur at a younger age. Being male – In the United States, men have a higher rate of melanoma than women, although this varies by age. Before age 50, the risk is higher for women; after age 50 the risk is higher in men.


Lymphoma – Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in cells that are part of the body’s immune system. Rare lymphomas that start in the skin are called skin lymphomas (or cutaneous lymphomas). Risk factors: Age is an important risk factor for this disease, with most skin lymphomas occurring in people in their 50s and 60s. But some types of skin lymphoma can appear in younger people, even in children. Gender and race – Most (but not all) types of skin lymphoma are more common in men than in women. Most also tend to be more common in African Americans than in White people. Skin lymphomas may be more common in people who have a weakened immune system. This includes people with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), as well as people who have had an organ transplant such as a heart, kidney or liver transplant, who must take drugs that suppress their immune system. Certain infections – Infection with certain viruses or other germs has been suggested as a possible cause of some skin lymphomas. (HTLV-1 virus, Epstein-Barr (EBV) virus, Borrelia (Lyme-disease), Human Immunodeficiency (HIV) virus.


It’s important to know about the risk factors for ALL TYPES of skin cancer because there may be things you can do that could lower your risk of getting it. If you are at higher risk because of certain factors, there are also things you can do that might help find it early, where it’s likely to be easier to treat. Risk factors also include: Exposure to certain chemicals, Radiation exposure, Previous skin cancer, Long-term or severe skin inflammation or injury, Psoriasis treatment, Xeroderma pigmentosum, Basal cell nevus syndrome, Weakened immune system, Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and smoking. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is thought to be the major risk factor for most skin cancers. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. Tanning beds are another source of UV rays. UV rays damage the DNA (genes) inside skin cells. Skin cancers can begin when this damage affects the DNA of genes that control skin cell growth.


The American Cancer Society’s awareness campaign for skin cancer prevention promotes the slogan Slip! Slop! Slap! And Wrap which is a catch phrase that reminds people of the 4 key ways they can protect themselves from UV radiation:

  • Slip on a shirt
  • Slop on sunscreen
  • Slap on a hat
  • Wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes and sensitive skin around them
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