Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, accounting to 3.3 million people diagnosed with this condition. There are three main types: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanomas, as well as some less common cancers. 

Symptoms may include a sore that doesn't heal, a new spot on the skin, or a mole that has undergone recent changes.

When doctors suspect skin cancer during an exam, a biopsy is needed to make the diagnosis. Treatment options depend on the type and stage, with surgery to remove cancer being the most common approach. With melanomas and advanced squamous cell carcinomas, other treatments such as immunotherapy, chemotherapy, or radiation may be needed. However, there are many simple things you can do to lower your risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does skin cancer look like?

    The various types of skin cancer, in general, look different. The mnemonic device ABCDE (and F) can be employed specifically for melanoma  to help recognize when a skin change may be suspicious for melanoma:
    A: Asymmetry

    B: Borders

    C: Color

    D: Diameter

    E: Elevation or evolution

    F: "Funny looking"

  • Does skin cancer itch?

    Itchiness can have many benign causes, but in some cases it can be a symptom of skin cancer. See your doctor if you have a persistently itchy mole or sore that just doesn't seem to be healing.

  • Is skin cancer deadly?

    The most common forms of skin cancer, squamous cell and basal cell cancers, in general, are not fatal as they're unlikely to spread to other areas of the body. Melanoma, the rarest form, is the most aggressive and can be deadly, however, melanoma can be curable when detected early. The estimated 5-year survival rate for those diagnosed with an early stage of melanoma is 99%.

  • Does skin cancer hurt?

    In the early stages, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are often dismissed as bug bites or other minor skin irritations—they may feel itchy, bleed, or ooze, but are unlikely to hurt. As skin cancers get larger, they may feel painful or sore. In cases of melanoma, a mole that has been on your body for a long time may begin to hurt or itch.

Key Terms

A Closer Look at Skin Cancer

Explore interactive models that show a close-up of how basal cell carcinoma—one of the most common skin cancers—can spread, and how each stage refers to changes in the disease's progression.

Page Sources
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  1. American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers. Updated January 8, 2020.

  2. Apalla Z, Nashan D, Weller RB, Castellsagué X. Skin Cancer: Epidemiology, Disease Burden, Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Therapeutic Approaches. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2017;7(Suppl 1):5–19. doi:10.1007/s13555-016-0165-y

  3. Seiverling EV, Ahrns HT, Bacik LC, Usatine R. Biopsies for skin cancer detection: Dispelling the myths. J Fam Pract. 2018;67(5):270-274.

  4. Skin Cancer Foundation. Melanoma. Updated May 2020.

  5. Berking C, Hauschild A, Kölbl O, Mast G, Gutzmer R. Basal cell carcinoma-treatments for the commonest skin cancer. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014;111(22):389-95.

  6. Baskar R, Lee KA, Yeo R, Yeoh KW. Cancer and radiation therapy: current advances and future directions. Int J Med Sci. 2012;9(3):193–199. doi:10.7150/ijms.3635.

  7. Prohaska J, Badri T. Cryotherapy. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; Updated August 23, 2020.

  8. Skin Cancer Foundation. Melanoma. Updated May 2020.

  9. American Cancer Society. What are basal and squamous cell cancers? Updated July 26, 2019.

Additional Reading