Where is skin cancer most common on the body?

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, with 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occurring globally each year, according to the World Health Organization. Knowing where skin cancer normally appears and the warning signs can help you stay safe as early detection significantly increases chances of survival.
Learn about the most common forms of skin cancer below and where they usually show up on the body.

As a general rule of thumb: 

Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, even on areas not exposed to the sun such as the inside of the mouth or genitals, but most of the time, it will develop on sun-exposed areas. This includes the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands, and on the legs.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer worldwide. Basal cell carcinoma forms in the outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis. Basal cell carcinoma typically presents itself as a waxy or pearly white bump or nodule on the face, ears or neck. These bumps may bleed or develop a crust. It can also appear as brown, blue or black lesions, pigmented areas with slightly raised, translucent borders, as a slowly growing flat, brown or red patch that can look similar to eczema, or as a pink growth with an indented center. Open sores that won’t heal and may bleed, ooze and crust and waxy looking scars are other symptoms of the cancer. In general, basal cell carcinoma is a slow growing cancer and it is rare for it to metastasize to other areas of the body. It will usually only spread to surrounding tissues in the skin or bone.

Where it usually occurs:

Most basal cell carcinomas are a result of long-time, repeated sun-exposure or occasional intense sun-exposure. That’s why the cancer is most common on areas of the skin regularly exposed to the sun, including the face, neck, scalp, shoulders, back and ears.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It forms when squamous cells begin to grow uncontrollably in the top layers of the skin, called the epidermis. In most cases, it is caused by repeated exposure to UV rays over time.

Squamous cell carcinoma usually first appears as a red, scaly, sometimes crusty plaque of skin that may get bigger and develop a sore, as a red, hard domed bump that won’t go away or as a wart-like growth that may bleed or crust. The growths may also be pink and dry and may itch or burn.

Where it usually occurs:

Squamous cell carcinoma typically shows up on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, lips, arms, legs and tops of hands, but it can also more rarely appear on areas not exposed to the sun including the lower lip, genitals, in the lining of organs and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.

Melanoma

Melanoma is the least common but deadliest type of skin cancer. Melanoma begins in melanocyte cells found in the innermost layer of the epidermis (the top layer of our skin). It occurs when those cells behave abnormally, growing excessively and taking over surrounding tissues. Melanomas can develop from existing moles or skin growths, but, more commonly, they will start as a new growth.

Where it usually occurs:

Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, including areas not exposed to the sun, like inside the mouth or the palms of the hands. Men are more likely to get melanomas on their back and trunk or on their head and neck while women are more likely to get them on their arms and legs.

A study in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology found that melanomas in blacks, Asians, Filipinos, Indonesians, and native Hawaiians most often occur on non-exposed skin with less pigment, with up to 60-75 percent of tumors arising on the palms, soles, mucous membranes and nail regions. > Learn more about these rarer symptoms of melanoma.

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