Woman in garden

Summer is here and many people will be getting outside to enjoy the warmth and sunshine. But it is important not only to take precautions against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, but also to recommit to taking care of already sun-damaged skin. Make sure you know the signs of skin cancer and take steps to prevent it.

About one in five people will be diagnosed with some type of skin cancer by age 70, making it the most common form of cancer found in the United States, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. It’s often caused by damage from the UV rays from the sun or those emitted by tanning beds.

Forms of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, occurring in the basal cells found in the bottom of the skin’s outermost layer. This cancer typically appears as a small, shiny bump on the face, scalp, ears, neck, shoulders and back. People with a fair complexion are at the highest risk for this type of skin cancer. This type of cancer has very little chance of spreading to other parts of the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer, also appearing in the outermost layer of the skin but arising from squamous cells. This cancer also appears on exposed parts of the body and is often a patch that is red and scaly. Like basal cell carcinoma, this form of skin cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, as it can spread rapidly to other organs in the body. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 196,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020. Melanoma develops from melanocytes, which are the pigment-producing cells in the upper layer of the skin. This often resembles a mole but can arise from them as well. Melanoma ranks fifth in the types of new cancers diagnosed in Kentucky, according to the American Cancer Society.

Warning signs of melanoma include asymmetrical lesions and uneven borders around the mole. If a mole is multi-colored and one-quarter of an inch in diameter, it should be examined by a physician. Also take note of any moles that appear to be changing over time; this could be a sign of melanoma.

With or without previous skin damage, you still have some control over your skin and its health. Protect your skin from the sun by using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 daily. For those who are outside for large parts of the day, working or recreationally, however, an SPF of at least 30 is recommended. Wearing protective clothing when spending long hours in the sun is important. You should perform monthly skin self-examinations.

If you see a mole or any other skin discoloration that doesn’t look right, do not wait for your annual visit to talk to a physician. Catching skin cancers early on is the key to a successful treatment.


Michael Horn, MD

Michael E. Horn, MD

Dr. Horn is with CHI Saint Joseph Health – Hematology and Oncology.