Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. It occurs when skin cells develop abnormally, often due to exposure to the sun. The three most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Less common forms of skin cancer are merkel cell carcinoma, lymphoma of the skin, and Kaposi sarcoma.

What To Look For

Any changes to the skin are worth discussing with your doctor. Basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, appears as a waxy or pearly bump, or a flesh colored or brown, flat lesion. Squamous cell carcinomas are red nodules, firm to the touch, or flat with a crusty coating. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanomas appear as changes to existing moles, or large brown spots with dark specks. Any existing mole that changes in size, feel, or color, or bleeds, should be considered suspicious. New lesions with irregular borders, and appear, white, red, blue, or black should also be seen by a doctor.

Risk Factors

Anyone, of any skin tone, can develop skin cancer. That said, there are some risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Individuals with fair skin, such as blond or red hair with light eyes, have less natural protection to UV rays, so have an increased risk of developing skin cancer. A history of sun burns or excessive sun exposure also increases skin cancer risk. Living in a high-altitude or sunny climate increases risk as well. A weakened immune system makes individuals more susceptible to skin cancer, as does a family or personal history of skin cancer.


Protection from the sun is the most important step in preventing skin cancer. Avoid the sun during the middle of the day, wear sunscreen all year, and cover up with protective clothing. Ask your pharmacist about any medications you take, as some, both over-the-counter and prescription, can increase your sensitivity to the sun.

Check your skin often, and report any new moles or changes to your doctor. Receiving an early diagnosis of skin cancer makes treatment much less invasive and more successful. By protecting your skin from the sun, you can both look younger for longer, and substantially reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

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