Who Gets Skin Cancer?

Everyone is at risk for skin cancer, no matter your skin color or type. Know the warning signs for skin cancer and protect your skin from the sun at every age.

Skin cancer can be either non-melanoma or melanoma:

  • Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common and often very treatable. They include basal cell and squamous cell.
  • Melanoma skin cancer is more rare than non-melanoma skin cancer. It is also more serious and can be deadly.

Both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers can be easily found on the skin through skin cancer screening. The earlier skin cancer is detected, the better the outcome.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Skin cancer is more common among people with a light or fair skin tone, but anyone can get skin cancer. Even teenagers and children can develop skin cancer, though it is rare in children.

Skin cancer can happen anywhere on the body, even in places that have not been exposed to UV rays, such as between the toes.

These things raise your risk for (chances of getting) skin cancer:

  • Tanning bed use
  • Living at a high elevation
  • Blistering sunburn (especially as a child)
  • Fair skin and blue, green, gray, or light-colored eyes
  • Blonde or reddish hair
  • More than 50 moles
  • A personal or family history of any type of skin cancer
  • Working or playing outdoors

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation and Skin Cancer

The sun, sun lamps, and tanning beds give off ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation has two types of rays, UVA and UVB. Both types of UV rays penetrate the skin and cause damage to skin cells.

Damage from UV rays lasts a lifetime. It may show up on your body in these ways:

  • A tan or sunburn
  • Eye problems
  • Loose skin
  • Dark patches
  • Wrinkles
  • Premature aging
  • Skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma

There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan or sunburn is your skin reacting to damage from UV rays.

Protect Your Skin from UV Rays

Practice these tips to lower your risk for skin cancer. These tips also help protect your skin from painful sunburns and long-term skin damage.

  • Try not to tan or burn.
  • Limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear broad-brimmed hats, long sleeves, and pants.
  • Wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection.
  • Put sunscreen on any areas of skin not protected by clothing. Apply 20 minutes before going outside.
  • Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

Use the Right Type of Sunscreen

Look for these features when buying sunscreen:

  • SPF 30 or higher
  • Broad spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
  • Contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both
  • Lotion rather than spray (lotion provides better coverage)
  • Water resistant

Check Your Skin

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s doctors recommend you check your skin monthly to get familiar with your own moles and freckles.

  • Check your skin completely. Look at both sides of your body with your arms raised and lowered.
  • Use a mirror for areas that are hard to see, or ask a friend or spouse to check those areas.
  • Look at the backs of your legs, bottoms of your feet, and between your toes.
  • Check your scalp. You can also ask your hairstylist or barber to do this.

Skin Cancer Signs to Look For

  • Compare your moles to each other. Watch for any “ugly duckling” moles that look different than the other moles on your skin.
  • Look for these signs of basal cell and squamous cell cancers:
    • Sores
    • Bumps
    • Waxy-looking spots
    • Scaly patches
  • Look for these “ABCDE” warning signs of melanoma:
    • Asymmetry—one half unlike the other half
    • Border—jagged or notched borders
    • Color—extra-dark or several colors
    • Diameter—larger than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm)
    • Evolution—new, itchy, or bleeding; growing, shrinking, or disappearing; changing in color or shape
  • Talk to a dermatologist right away if you see any changes.