Nearly all types of skin cancer are caused by sun exposure that occurs over time. Some studies indicate skin cancer is more likely to occur in people who have had prolonged sun exposure during their youth, but protecting skin with sunscreen and avoiding long periods of direct sun exposure is important at every age. Other factors like genetics may also increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
There are three types of skin cancer. The most common type is basal cell carcinoma which causes changes in the skin’s lowest (basal) layer. Basal cell carcinoma is responsible for about 85% of all skin cancer cases. The second most common is squamous cell carcinoma, which causes about 10% of all skin cancer cases. Squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other areas if not promptly treated. The third type is melanoma, which comprises less than 5% of all skin cancer cases but causes nearly all skin cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Each type of cancer requires a different treatment approach for optimal outcomes.
Skin cancer diagnosis begins with a careful evaluation of any suspicious lesions or discolored areas, including moles and freckles. Next, a biopsy procedure will may be performed to obtain a small sample of tissue for evaluation in a lab to determine if cancer cells are present.
Treatment depends on the type of cancer that’s present and other factors. Options include:
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to use sunscreen and protective clothing when outside and to avoid prolonged sun exposure, especially during the midday hours when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Sun damage can occur even when it’s cloudy, so wearing sunscreen every day, even in the winter, is vitally important. In addition, having routine skin cancer screenings is important for identifying skin cancer in its earliest stages when treatment may be more effective.