About Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Skin cancer starts in the cells of the skin. Some other types of cancer start in other parts of the body and can spread to the skin, but these are not skin cancers. Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are by far the most common cancers of the skin. Both are found mainly on parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck. These cancers are strongly related to a person’s sun exposure.


The types of skin cancer

Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells. It most often develops on areas of the skin exposed to the sun’s rays. Skin cancer affects people of all colors and races, although those with light skin who sunburn easily have a higher risk. 

Below are the most common types of skin cancer and how to spot them.


Actinic Keratoses (AK)

These dry, scaly patches or spots are precancerous growths.

  • People who get AK's usually have fair skin.

  • Most people see their first AKs after 40 years of age because AKs tend to develop after years of sun exposure.

  • AK's usually form on the skin that gets lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms.

  • Because an AK can progress to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), treatment is important.


This is the most common type of skin cancer.

  • BCC's frequently develop in people who have fair skin, yet they can occur in people with darker skin.

  • BCC's look like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin.

  • BCC's develop after years of frequent sun exposure or indoor tanning.

  • BCC is commonly found on the head, neck, and arms, yet can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen, and legs.

  • Early diagnosis and treatment for BCC is important. BCC can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer.

  • People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC, yet they can develop in darker-skinned people.

  • SCC often looks like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.

  • SCC tend to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back. SCC can grow deep in the skin and cause damage and disfigurement. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent this and stop SCC from spreading to other areas of the body.


Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

  • Melanoma frequently develops in a mole or suddenly appears as a new dark spot on the skin.

  • Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.

  • Knowing the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma can help you find an early melanoma. (You can click on the green ABCDE for more information.)

Related Articles


Severe Sunburns early in life linked to higher Melanoma Risk


The worst states for Melanoma



7 subtle signs you might have skin cancer



11 signs it’s skin cancer


Click The American Cancer Society logo to learn more about Melanoma Skin Cancer

Click The Skin Cancer Foundation logo to learn more about their mission