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Skin Cancer Risks and Types

Cancers of the skin are the most common type of cancer. Each day, doctors diagnose about 9,500 people in the U.S. with skin cancer.

Skin cancer can affect anyone. Experts estimate that one in five Americans will get skin cancer before they turn 70.

Doctors diagnose more people with skin cancer each year than all other cancer types combined.

Skin cancer occurs when cells in any of the skin's layers grow in ways that aren't normal. Although cancer may start in skin cells, it can spread to other parts of your body.


Skin cancer can become deadly if left untreated.

Skin cancer can cause:

  • Disfigurement. Untreated skin cancers can grow deep into the skin and across wide areas. When this happens, it can cause life-long damage to bones, skin, and tissue.
  • Advanced disease. When skin cancer spreads to other body parts, it can affect systemic function. For instance, skin cancer that spreads to the lungs can cause breathing problems. Skin cancers that spread are stage 3 and 4 cancers that may need more aggressive treatment after surgery.
  • Death. Doctors expect nonmelanoma skin cancers to kill more than 4,000 people in the U.S. each year. Melanoma — a less common but more serious skin cancer — is even deadlier, with more than 7,000 people expected to die yearly.

You might be at higher risk for getting skin cancer if you:

  • Are older than 50.
  • Have a family history of cancer.
  • Have had sunburns.
  • Have light skin or light hair and eyes (your skin makes less melanin, which helps protect skin from the sun's UV rays).
  • Have had a solid organ transplant.
  • Use or have a history of using tanning beds.
  • Spend time in the sun for long periods or don't use sunblock to protect against UV rays.

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can occur on any part of the body — even those not exposed to the sun.

Melanoma is the deadliest, most aggressive form of skin cancer.

It can occur when cells deep in the skin that make pigment — called melanocytes — grow abnormally.

Some melanomas look like moles, and some form in moles that weren't previously cancerous (benign moles).

Without treatment, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body and cause advanced disease or even death. That's why it's crucial to know the signs and symptoms of melanoma.

Nonmelanoma cancers occur most often in places that get sun exposure. These cancers are less deadly than melanoma and are mostly curable when caught and treated early.

Nonmelanoma cancers typically form a growth or irregular patch on the skin. These growths may prove benign or malignant.

The most common nonmelanoma skin cancer types include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC). BCC is the most common form of skin cancer, with doctors diagnosing about 3.6 million new cases in the U.S. each year. It forms in the basal cells, which make up the lining of the skin's outermost layer. Though BCC rarely spreads beyond its original site, it can invade nearby skin and damage bone and tissue.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer, with around 1.8 million new cases in the U.S. yearly. It starts in the squamous cells in the top layer of the skin's outer layer. It's often highly curable.

Rare skin cancer

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, aggressive skin cancer type. Doctors diagnose about 3,000 people in the U.S. with MCC each year.

Cells connected to nerves in the skin's top layer grow abnormally, forming cancers that can become deadly if not treated.

Noncancerous moles

Dysplastic nevi (atypical moles) are benign growths that may look like melanomas. Talk to your doctor if you get a mole that doesn't look like most of your other moles.

Dysplastic nevi can increase your risk of getting melanoma.

Noncutaneous melanomas

Most melanomas are cutaneous melanomas that form on the skin. But more rarely, melanoma can occur in other parts of the body.

About 5% of melanomas start in the:

  • Eyes. Uveal melanoma forms in the eyes. You may have a higher risk if you have light skin or light eyes and hair.
  • Mucous membranes. Mucosal melanomas sometimes occur in moist tissue that lines cavities such as the mouth, nose, vagina, or anus. Researchers believe changes to genes may cause this type of melanoma.

Contact Us About Melanoma and Skin Cancer Care

To learn more about melanoma and skin cancer care or to make an appointment, you can: