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Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Known risk factors for skin cancer include: complexion, genetics, age, and sun exposure.

There are three forms of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma- slow growing, seldom spreads and accounts for 90 percent of skin cancers in United States
  • Squamous cell carcinoma- generally curable but has a great risk of spreading to other parts of the body
  • Melanoma- most deadly, but can be cured if detected early

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of skin cells. If left unchecked, these cancer cells can spread from the skin into other tissues and organs. Skin cancers are sometimes classified as either melanoma or nonmelanoma. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common nonmelanoma skin cancers. Other nonmelanoma skin cancers are Kaposi's sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and cutaneous lymphoma.

Risk factors

All three types of skin cancer share common risk factors. People who have the following traits or experiences are at greater risk:

  • Fair complexion and light or red hair
  • Sunburns easily
  • Many moles
  • Excessive sun exposure, especially during the first 10 to 18 years of life
  • Excessive tanning bed use
  • Family history of skin cancer


The National Cancer Institute recommends the following ways to protect skin from the sun and help prevent skin cancer from occurring:

  • Avoid "peak" sunlight hours - 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Seek shade whenever possible.
  • Wear protective clothing including wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts and pants during prolonged sun exposure.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher, 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.  Reapply every two hours.
  • Have skin checked once a year by a dermatologist.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin - especially a new growth or a sore that doesn't heal. In addition, moles with the following characteristics should be checked immediately:

  • Asymmetry - on one half does not match the other half
  • Border irregularity - edges are ragged, notched or blurred
  • Color - color is not the same throughout
  • Diameter of mole is wider than six millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing

Download your FREE ABCDEs of Melanoma bookmark!

For more information on skin cancer prevention, contact the Norton Cancer Institute Prevention & Early Detection Program at 1-800-555-6772 or email A health care professional will research and respond to your question within 48-hours. Exceptions may include weekends and holidays. 

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