Skin cancer, the abnormal growth of skin cells, most often develops on skin exposed to the sun. But this common form of cancer also can occur on areas of your skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Skin cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs in women. But it also can form on areas that rarely see the light of day, including your palms, beneath your fingernails or toenails, and your genital area.
Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma most often appears on the face or trunk of men who are affected. In women, this type of cancer most often develops on the lower legs. It can affect people of any skin tone. In people with darker skin tones, melanoma tends to occur on the palms or soles, or under the fingernails or toenails.
Melanoma symptoms include:
A large brownish spot with darker speckles
A mole that changes in color, size or feel, or that bleeds
A small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, white, blue or blue-black
Dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus
Symptoms by melanoma type are:
Basal cell carcinoma signs and symptoms
Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or face. It may appear as a pearly or waxy bump, or a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion.
Squamous cell carcinoma signs and symptoms
Most often, squamous cell carcinoma occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your face, ears and hands. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on areas that aren't often exposed to the sun. It may appear as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you.
Most skin cancers are preventable. To protect yourself, follow these skin cancer prevention tips:
Avoid the sun during the middle of the day. For many people in North America, the sun's rays are strongest between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Wear sunscreen year-round. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 15. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you're swimming or perspiring.
Wear protective clothing. Sunscreens don't provide complete protection from ultraviolet rays.
Avoid tanning beds.
Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications. Some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of any medications that you take.
Check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor.