Cancer Services Program

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Local Cancer Services and Screening Programs

Or call 1-866-442-CANCER (2262)

Bureau of Chronic Disease Control
New York State Department of Health
150 Broadway, Suite 350
Albany, NY 12204-0678

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the skin. Skin cancer most often develops on skin exposed to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation (rays), but skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body. There are three kinds of skin cancer: basal, squamous and melanoma.

  • Basal cell skin cancer generally grows slowly and is not very likely to spread to other parts of the body.
  • Squamous cell skin cancer tends to be somewhat more aggressive than basal cell skin cancer, but is less dangerous than melanoma.
  • Melanomas of the skin are considered the most dangerous because they are more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

Many skin cancers can be prevented by reducing exposure to UV rays. Up to 90% of melanomas are estimated to be caused by UV exposure.

Skin Cancer Statistics

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Because melanoma tends to spread quickly to other organs, it causes most skin cancer deaths, even though it accounts for the least amount of cancer cases.

New York State

  • Melanoma is the eighth most common type of cancer among both men and women in NYS.
  • More than 3,700 NYS residents are diagnosed with melanoma annually.
  • Each year about 500 New Yorkers die from melanoma.
  • For adults age 20 to 34 years, melanoma ranks among the top five cancers.

United States

  • Skin cancer (all types combined) is the most commonly occurring cancer with over two million cases a year.
  • The number of new cases of melanoma in the US is on the rise.
  • An estimated 9,000 people die annually of melanoma in the U.S.
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer in young women aged 25-29.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). UV rays can come from natural sunlight as well as from indoor tanning devices such as tanning beds, tanning booths and sunlamps.

Some people are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but some general risks include:

  • Having a lighter natural skin color.
  • Having a family history of skin cancer.
  • Having a personal history of skin cancer.
  • Exposure to the sun through work and play.
  • Having a history of sunburns, especially early in life.
  • Having a history of indoor tanning.
  • Having skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
  • Blue or green eyes.
  • Blond or red hair.
  • Certain types and a large number of moles.

Am I Still at Risk for Skin Cancer Once My Sunburn or Tan Fades?

Sunburned or tanned skin is damaged skin. Skin damage adds up with each sunburn or tan and may one day result in skin cancer. Even if a sunburn or tan fades, the damage caused by that tan or burn does not, and the effects cannot be reversed.

How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer?

The best way to reduce the risk for skin cancer is by avoiding exposure to UV radiation, whether it be from an indoor tanning device or natural light. Ultraviolet radiation is a concern all year round, no matter what the weather. Clouds do not offer protection from UV rays and UV rays reflect off sand, water and snow. There are many ways to reduce exposure to UV radiation. Follow these simple steps:

  • Never use a tanning bed, booth or sun lamp.
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever possible.
  • Wear sunglasses that block both type of UV rays (UVA and UVB). Sunglasses will protect the tender skin around the eyes and reduce the risk of cataracts.
  • Use a sunscreen labeled "broad-spectrum" with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 15 or higher. SPF 15 blocks out 93% of UV rays, while an SPF 30 blocks out 97% of UV rays.
  • Apply the sunscreen to dry skin 15-30 minutes before going outdoors and again after swimming or perspiring.
  • One ounce of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to completely cover the exposed areas of the body.
  • Avoid direct sun at midday, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Follow these tips on cloudy days too! Clouds do not block most UV rays.

Skin Cancer Resources