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Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Most skin cancers are classified as nonmelanoma (basal cell or squamous cell) and develop on sun-exposed areas of the body. Although cure of these cancers is highly likely if detected and treated early, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas can cause considerable damage and disfigurement if left untreated.

Melanoma is a skin cancer than develops in melanocytes, the cells that produce our skin color. This type of skin cancer can spread quickly to other parts of the body and is considered a more serious type of skin cancer. Melanoma skin cancer is highly curable when detected in its early stages.

From 2008 to 2012, 4 percent, or an annual average of 2,513 new cancer diagnoses, and 1.6 percent, or an annual average of 391 cancer deaths in Ohio, were melanoma skin cancer. The rate of melanoma incidence has been increasing over the last several decades while the rate of melanoma skin cancer mortality has remained relatively stable. Melanoma is primarily a disease of whites; the incidence rate in Ohio is more than 20 times higher in whites than in African-Americans.

Risk Factors

Although a specific cause is unknown, several risk factors may contribute to the development of skin cancer. They include:
  • Age – risk of melanoma increases with age; however, it is one of the most common cancers among adolescents and young adults
  • Race – risk of melanoma is more than 10 times higher for whites than for African Americans
  • Gender – men are more likely than women to develop all forms of skin cancer
  • Dysplastic moles – having these abnormal moles increases risk
  • Many (more than 50) ordinary moles
  • Fair skin – increases risk for all types of skin cancer
  • Personal History – having previous skin cancers increases risk of additional skin
  • Family History – having two or more close relatives who have had melanoma increases
  • Weakened immune system – people whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, drugs given following organ transplantation, or HIV are at increased risk for developing melanoma
  • History of severe blistering sunburn, either as a child or an adult
  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation – exposure from sun, sunlamps and tanning booths increases risk

Prevention and Early Detection

American Cancer Society guidelines recommend the following for the prevention of skin cancer:
  • Limit or avoid exposure to the sun during the midday hours (10 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.)
  • When outdoors, where a hat that shades the face, neck and ears, and a long-sleeved shirt and pants
  • Wear sunglasses with at least 99% UV absorption to protect the skin around the eyes
  • Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher
  • Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps
  • Identify and remove abnormal moles
Signs of skin cancer are usually visible to a doctor or person who has learned the signs of skin cancer and regularly examines his/her own skin. Everyone should know his/her own pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles and other marks on the skin, so he/she can notice changes during monthly examinations. Individuals who notice these kinds of signals should see their doctor immediately.

A simple ABCD rule outlines the warning signs of melanoma:
  • A is for asymmetry: one half of the mole does not match the other half
  • B is for border irregularity: the edges are ragged, notched or blurred
  • C is for color. The pigmentation is not uniform, with variable degrees of tan, brown, or black
  • D is for diameter greater than 6 millimeters – although any sudden or progressive increase in size should be of concern

For More Information

For more information on skin cancer, visit the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program's Resources Page.


Last Reviewed 11/03/2015