Symptoms & Risks

What is skin cancer?

When cells in the body grow out of control, they become cancer. As cancerous skin cells multiply, they form a mass called a tumor under or on the skin. Sometimes these are called skin lesions.

How common is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common of all human cancers. It is also the most common cancer in the United States, with more than 1 million people diagnosed each year. This year, more than 76,000 cases of the most aggressive form of skin cancer – melanoma – will be diagnosed in the U.S.

What is my risk for skin cancer?

Your risk depends on several factors. You may be at higher risk for developing skin cancer if you:

  • Have fair skin
  • Freckle or sunburn easily
  • Have light hair and blue or green eyes
  • Have had skin cancer in the past

In addition, men are about 3 times more likely to get skin cancer than women. While many people under the age of 45 are diagnosed with skin cancer, most people are diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 54.

Are minorities at higher risk?

African Americans and Asian Indians are at a higher risk for a common form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). In African Americans, skin cancers tend to be more aggressive and may have a 20 to 40 percent risk of spreading (metastasis).

How did I get skin cancer?

One in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. Sun exposure is the main cause of skin cancer. Other causes include:

  • Use of tanning booths
  • Having suppressed immune systems
  • High levels of X-ray exposure
  • Frequent contact with certain chemicals