Harmful sun rays being blocked from man for skin cancer prevention

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.

Dermatologist examining mole of female patient with magnifying glass
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Stages
a woman sunbathing and reading on the beach
Causes and Risk Factors of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
What Is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?
A close up of a lesion on an older adult woman's face that is denoted as being an example of Bowen's disease.
What Is Bowen’s Disease?
Woman sitting on the sofa while making video call over laptop with her doctor.
What to Know About Telehealth for Skin Cancer
Person points out a skin tag of concern
What Is a Skin Tumor?
The ABCDEs of Skin Cancer: Warning Signs to Watch For
What Is Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer?
Dermatologist inspecting melanoma
Stage 4 Melanoma
Cryotherapy used to Removed an Age Spot on a white male
Prevention Can Save Your Face From These Skin Cancers
Basal Cell Carcinoma on the face of older man before surgery
Types of Skin Cancer on the Ear
Using dermatoscope to check for skin cancer on the scalp
Everything You Need to Know About Skin Cancer on the Scalp
Female dermatologist (30s) examining male patient's skin with dermascope, carefully looking at a mole for signs of skin cancer.
What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?
Young Asian woman applying suntan lotion while sunbathing by the swimming pool - stock photo
Types of Skin Cancer
doctor doing a dermoscopy on a female patient in his office
What Is the Most Common Cancer?
eyelid tumor
An Overview of Eyelid Cancer
dermatologist examining patient
What Is the Most Common Type of Keratinocyte Skin Cancer?
Dermatologist looking at skin
The Ins and Outs of Dermatology
Doctor examining woman's shoulder
Does a Macule Mean That I Have Skin Cancer?
Actinic Keratosis
What You Should Know About Actinic Keratosis
dermatologist performing skin cancer exam
Facts About Skin Cancer for National Skin Cancer Awareness Month
How a Surgical Margin Is Used to Treat Skin Cancer in Surgery
Melanoma skin check
Symptoms of Nodular Melanoma
Doctor oncologist with magnifying glass in his hand examines pigmented nevi on patient's back in clinic - stock photo
Symptoms of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Nurse checking skin on older woman
Symptoms of Bowen's Disease
Checking for early signs of skin cancer
How to Identify Signs of Early Skin Cancer
Woman Having Her Skin Examined
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma?
Dermatologist examining patient
How Can You Tell If It's a Mole or Skin Cancer?
Medical researcher in laboratory checking genes
How Do Genetics Influence Melanoma?
Woman scratching and itchy mole on her leg
Do You Know Why Your Mole Is Suddenly Itchy?
Doctor questioning patient and writing on clipboard
The ABCDE Rule of Skin Cancer Can Save Your Life
Dermatologist Inspecting Patient Skin Moles
How Can You Tell If a Mole Is Turning Into Skin Cancer?
Actinic Keratosis skin cancer
Identify Cancerous, Noncancerous, and Precancerous Skin Lesions
Dermatologist examining patient for signs of skin cancer
How Merkel Cell Carcinoma Is Diagnosed
Doctor examining skin
How Bowen's disease is diagnosed
Doctor examining woman with melanoma
How Deadly Is Skin Cancer?
Woman undergoing dermoscopy
What Is Dermoscopy?
Dermatologist checking a mole
Overview of the Different Types of Melanoma
Stages of melanoma
What You Should Know About the Stages of Melanoma
Doctor examining woman's skin
What to Know About Mitotic Rate on Your Melanoma Pathology Report
vials of blood
LDH Tests Can Help Your Healthcare Provider Determine If Skin Cancer Has Spread
Close-up of mole on woman's body
Learn How Melanoma Is Staged and Assigned a Breslow Number
Doctor examining woman with melanoma
Choosing the Right Biopsy for a Skin Cancer Type
Woman's skin being examined at doctor
What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like?
Skin cancer, light micrograph
Understanding the Second Most Common Type of Skin Cancer
Mid adult man visiting his female dermatologist for his weekly skin treatment to reduce dryness and redness of the skin
How Do I Know If I Have an Infection After Skin Cancer Removal?
Woman having mole removal in medical center using non-contact laser
How Merkel Cell Carcinoma Is Treated
Man getting cyrotherapy
How Bowen's Disease Is Treated
Doctor checking for basal cell carcinoma
Is Basal Cell Skin Cancer Serious?
Preparing for Mohs surgery
How to Prepare for Mohs Surgery
immune cells attacking cancer cells illustrating part of triplet therapy for melanoma
What is Triplet Targeted Therapy for Melanoma?
Woman speaking with nurse
Is Adjuvant Therapy for Melanoma Effective?
doctor evaluating patient
Here's What You Need to Know About Interleukin-2 for Metastatic Melanoma
Medical consultation
What Are the Pros and Cons of Melanoma Lymph Node Dissection?
Dermatologist examines a mole
The Truth About Melanoma Skin Cancer Treatment
Dermatologist examines a mole of female patient
What Treatments Are Available for Metastatic Melanoma?
surgeon looking at region on the back for melanoma removal
Patient's Guide to Stage 0, I, and II Melanoma Treatment
Dermatologist examining patient for signs of skin cancer Female dermatologist (30s) examining male patient's skin with dermascope, carefully looking at a mole for signs of skin cancer.
Electrodesiccation and Curettage for Skin Cancer
man with fever sick in bed
Simple Tricks That Will Help You Cope With Interferon Side Effects
Woman Applying Skin Cream
What Skin Cancer Patients Need to Know About Efudex Topical Cream
Woman examining her skin
Aldara for the Treatment of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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