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 patient - stock photo
What Does Skin Cancer Look Like? A Photo Gallery of Skin Cancer
Doctor examining skin cancer
What Is Nodular Melanoma?
Dermatologist examining mole of female patient with magnifying glass
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Stages
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Causes and Risk Factors of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
What Is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?
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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
Skin Tumor: Types, Cancers, Treatments, and More
The ABCDEs of Skin Cancer: Warning Signs to Watch For
What Is Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer?
Dermatologist inspecting melanoma
Stage 4 Melanoma
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Prevention Can Save Your Face From These Skin Cancers
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Types of Skin Cancer on the Ear
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What to Know About Skin Cancer of the Scalp
Dermatologist examining patient's skin with dermascope.
What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?
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Types of Skin Cancer
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An Overview of Eyelid Cancer
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What Is the Most Common Type of Keratinocyte Skin Cancer?
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The Ins and Outs of Dermatology
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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
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Is It Skin Cancer or a Fungal Infection?
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
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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?
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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
How to Identify Potential Skin Cancer
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Mohs Surgery vs. Wide-Local Excision: What to Know
Dermatologist examining patient for signs of skin cancer
How Merkel Cell Carcinoma Is Diagnosed
Doctor examining skin
How Bowen's disease is diagnosed
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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
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Choosing the Right Biopsy for a Skin Cancer Type
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What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like?
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Understanding the Second Most Common Type of Skin Cancer
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How Do I Know If I Have an Infection After Skin Cancer Removal?
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How Merkel Cell Carcinoma Is Treated
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How Bowen's Disease Is Treated
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Is Basal Cell Skin Cancer Serious?
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How to Prepare for Mohs Surgery
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What is Triplet Targeted Therapy for Melanoma?
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Is Adjuvant Therapy for Melanoma Effective?
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Here's What You Need to Know About Interleukin-2 for Metastatic Melanoma
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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
Your Guide to Stage 0, 1, and 2 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
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