Do You Know Your ABCDE’s? National Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month

May is National Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month, an important time to talk about protection. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the U.S. More than 9,500 people are diagnosed each day, and an alarming two people die of skin cancer every hour in the U.S.

There are a lot of myths and misinformation circulating about the disease, and it’s essential to know the facts. Here’s what you should know about skin cancer.

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells grow abnormally. It begins in the epidermis, which is composed of three kinds of cells – basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocytes. The three major types of skin cancer are the following:

  • Melanoma
  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are non-melanoma skin cancers. Of all types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most deadly because it tends to spread to vital organs.

Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell cancers typically develop in areas of the body most exposed to the sun, such as the face, head, and neck. Look for skin abnormalities such as:

  • Itchy, raised reddish patches
  • Pink growths with raised edges
  • Areas that are flat and firm, similar to scarred skin
  • Open sores that don’t heal or do heal but then open again

Squamous cell carcinoma

Similar to basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinomas tend to occur in sun-exposed areas of the body. Rarely squamous cell cancer develops in the genital regions. Look for signs like:

  • Wart-like growths
  • Open sores that don’t heal or do heal but then open again
  • Rough, scaly patches
  • Lumps with raised edges


The first warning signs of melanoma appear in changes in an existing mole or the appearance of a new, unusual mole. Follow the ABCDE rule to identify suspicious signs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry. Does the shape of one-half of the mole not match the other?
  • Border. Are the edges of the mole ragged, uneven, or blurred?
  • Color. Does the mole come in shades of black, brown, and tan with areas of white, gray, red, or blue?
  • Diameter. Is the diameter of the mole larger than 6 mm, or has it grown in size? A good reference for size comparison is the diameter of a pencil eraser. 
  • Evolving. Has the mole changed in size, shape, color, or appearance? Is it growing in an area of previously normal skin?

Skin Cancer Prevention

You can reduce your risk for skin cancer by practicing sun safety. The risk for melanoma doubles if you have five or more sunburns. Avoid excessive exposure to the sun, stay in the shade when you can, and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on a daily basis.

There’s a common misunderstanding that only excessive sun exposure causes skin cancer. While sun exposure is the primary cause, other factors that may cause skin cancer include family history, UV radiation exposure, increasing age, and a weakened immune system. We stress the importance of skin cancer awareness and screening because early detection can dramatically improve survival rates. When melanoma is detected early, the 5-year survival rate is 99%.

To learn more about skin cancer detection, prevention, and treatment, contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology. At Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology, more than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.