June 01, 2020

Skin cancer

A growing, preventable problem

Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the United States, and rates of the deadliest type rising quickly in older adults. Take steps to prevent skin cancer, or learn to spot it early, when chance of a cure is greatest.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer risk might seem like a concern only for young sunbathers on the beach or in tanning beds. However, older adults are the most likely age group to develop — and die of — skin cancer. This includes melanoma, which can be especially deadly if not caught early.

Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the United States. Rates of melanoma have more than doubled in the last two decades, from about 42,000 new cases in the U.S. in 1999 to an estimated 100,000 new cases in 2020. A Mayo Clinic study found that in men and women age 61 and older, melanoma rates have been increasing at much faster rates than this in recent years.

This isn't a reason to avoid going outdoors, but it's important to be sun smart and to take precautions against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

How it works

Skin cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, legs, arms and hands. But not always. Three common types of skin cancer are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) — This is by far the most common type of skin cancer. It may appear as a pearly or waxy bump, or as a flat, flesh-colored, scar-like spot. It affects mainly sun-exposed areas and is highly curable when caught early.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) — This common type of skin cancer may appear as a firm, red nodule or as...