Skin Cancer Screening and Risk Reduction

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. 5.4 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year.

It's important to know your risk and learn what you can do to protect yourself. Early detection is important when it is more curable. Talk to you doctor if you have any unusual changes in your skin.

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It’s important to know what type of skin cancer you have. There are different treatments depending on the type of skin cancer diagnosed.

There are 4 main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma
  • Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC)

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are most common. Most are cured with surgery that can be done in the doctor's office or other local treatments.

Melanoma is less common than basal or squamous cell skin cancers. However, it is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body and can be life-threatening if left untreated.  While melanoma cases have increased, new medical therapies like immunotherapy and targeted therapies have decreased the mortality of advanced disease.

MCC is rare, but the incidence is rapidly increasing. It tends to occur in older people. Treatment depends on how far the cancer has spread.

  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • Frequent sunburns (greater than 5), especially before age 25
  • Tanning bed use
  • Age
  • Being male
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer
  • A weakened immune system or immune-suppressive medications
  • A lighter natural skin color
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals (arsenic, coal, tar, paraffin, and some petroleum products) and radiation
  • Having many moles increases your chance of melanoma
  • MCC is sometimes caused by infection with the polyomavirus

Talk to your doctor if you are at increased risk of skin cancer.

Things to do to reduce your risk
  • Practice Sun Safety:
    Limit exposure to UV rays and stay in the shade. If you are going to be in the sun, “Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap!”
    • Slip on a long-sleeved shirt and pants
    • Slop on broad spectrum sunscreen 15 SPF or higher and reapply after swimming or sweating
    • Slap on a brimmed hat
    • Wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes and skin around them
  • No tanning bed use
  • Avoid harmful chemicals
  • Check your skin regularly for abnormal moles and other growths
  • Do not smoke

A change in your skin can be a common sign of skin cancer but symptoms can vary. Talk to your doctor if:

  • you see a suspicious raised growth or lump on your skin
  • a change in an existing mole or spot
  • a sore that doesn’t heal within 2 weeks

An easy way to remember the warning signs of Melanoma is to think about A-B-C-D-E’s.

A. Asymmetrical: Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
B. Border: Is the border irregular or jagged?
C. Color: Is the color uneven?
D. Diameter: Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
E. Evolving: Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

Finding skin cancer early is the best way to make sure it can be treated successfully.

Recognize the early warning signs and do regular self-examinations of your skin. Some doctors do skin exams as part of routine health check-ups to find any unusual moles or suspicious areas on your skin. Talk to your doctor if you are at increased risk of skin cancer.


Learn how to do a skin self-exam.

Learn more about Providence Dermatology clinics: Providence Glisan Dermatology and other locations

Keep in mind
  • Sun damage accumulates over time. Protect children from the sun and teach them about sun protection when they are ready.
  • Sunscreen does not protect you completely from harmful sun rays.
  • It’s better to get vitamin D from your diet and vitamin supplements rather than the sun.
  • The most preventable cause of skin cancer is over exposure to UV light, either from the sun or tanning beds.
Facts about Melanoma

Melanoma is a skin cancer in the pigment-producing cells, called melanocytes. It can appear anywhere on the body, even on areas that are not exposed to the sun.

  • Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer.
  • Melanoma is 20 times more common in white people than black people.
  • Melanoma accounts for about 1% of skin cancers diagnosed in the US but causes most skin cancer deaths.
  • More than 75% of non-melanoma skin cancer are noticed by patients and families first.

Learn more about Providence Melanoma Program

References: The American Cancer Society and CDC