Skin Cancer 101

Jan. 9, 2024

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types, and it affects millions of people living in the US each year. 1 in 5 people living in the US will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. Arizona, known for its hot, dry climate which lends itself to many outdoor activities, has almost double the rate of melanoma skin cancer compared to national averages. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, and if left untreated it can be fatal. 

What is skin cancer and what causes it? 

Skin cancer is another name for an abnormal growth of skin cells. Skin cancer often occurs on skin that is exposed to UV (ultraviolet) radiation emitted by the sun or from artificial sources, such as tanning beds. There are three types of skin cancer: (1) basal cell carcinoma, (2) squamous cell carcinoma, and (3) melanoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma


This is the most common type of skin cancer and typically occurs in areas exposed to direct sunlight. It is easy to treat if detected early. Learn more about basal cell carcinoma here

Common affects areas of skin frequently exposed to the sun. Individuals who are immunocompromised are at highest risk for this skin cancer. Learn more about squamous cell carcinoma here.

This is the most serious type of skin cancer and causes the most deaths. Melanoma can occur in areas of the body that are difficult to detect and can spread to other areas. Learn more about melanoma here

Who is most vulnerable to UV radiation?

Infants and children are vulnerable to UV radiation, because their skin is thinner than that of an adult. Excessive UV exposure in children can make them more likely to develop skin cancer later in life. Fair-skinned individuals are also at increased risk of developing skin cancer versus people with darker skin tones. Everyone should take proper precautions to protect themselves against UV radiation. 

How can I reduce my risk of developing skin cancer? 

You can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer by limiting or avoiding sources of UV radiation. You can do this in many ways, and the more barriers against UV radiation, the better protected you will be. Although UV rays are most intense in the summertime, you should still protect yourself on even cloudy or snowy days. 

Some ways to protect yourself in the sun are:
  • Wear protective clothing (long sleeves) 
  • Wear a broad-brimmed sunhat
  • Wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection 
  • Use sunscreen and apply it liberally, at least 15 minutes before going outside into the sun
  • Make sure your sunscren has a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and it protects against both UVA and UVB rays
  • Use a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher
  • Reapply sunscreen after you have been swimming or sweating a lot
  • Find a shady spot to sit, and avoid extended exposure when the sun is strongest (10 am–4 pm) 

What are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer? 

Skin cancer can appear in unique ways. Some things to look out for are listed below:

  • A new mole, or one that changes size, shape, color, or bleeds
  • A pearly or waxy bump on the face, ears, or neck
  • A flat, pink-, red-, or brown- colored patch or bump
  • Areas of skin that look like scars
  • Wounds or sore that do not heal, or that heal but come back again
  • Rough, scaly lesions that may itch, bleed and become crusty

The appearance of skin cancer depends heavily on the type of cancer, but if you are concerned about skin cancer on yourself or a loved one, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider immediately.

Resources for Skin Cancer in Arizona

The University of Arizona in Tucson is home to the Skin Cancer Institute, which offers many useful resources for the prevention of skin cancer, information about types of skin cancer, and other helpful resources, including this video on prevention and detection of melanoma.

The Arizona Skin Cancer Foundation has an informative article on how to perform a Skin Check at home, which you can access here. They also have a useful guide on what to look for in and on your skin, which you can access here, and excellent resources to learn about the prevention of skin cancer