Skin cancer most often develops on areas of your body that get the greatest exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. It’s commonly found on your face, chest, arms, and hands. It can affect anyone.

Even if you’ve never had a sunburn, you’re at risk of developing skin cancer. In People of Color, it’s often diagnosed at an advanced stage. This could be due to different factors like access to healthcare, delay in detection, or presentation. Because of lack of research, there are limited resources for recognizing darkly pigmented lesions in People of Color.

Skin cancer can also develop on less exposed areas of your body, like:

  • scalp
  • ears
  • lips
  • neck
  • under your fingernails
  • bottoms of your feet
  • genitals

Skin cancers often appear as a suspicious mole, freckle, or spot. But accompanying symptoms depend on the type of skin cancer.

An actinic keratosis, known as a precancer, is a scaly or crusty lesion. It most commonly appears on various areas of your body:

  • scalp
  • face
  • ears
  • lips
  • back of your hands
  • forearms
  • shoulders
  • neck

These areas are most frequently exposed to the sun. These lesions are sometimes so small that they’re found by touch instead of sight. They’re often raised and may feel like a small patch of sandpaper on your skin. Depending on your skin tone, the lesions may be red, light or dark tan, white, pink, flesh tones, or a combination of colors.

It’s important to treat actinic keratosis early. Untreated lesions have up to a 10 percent chance of becoming squamous cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinoma develops in your basal skin cells. These cells are at the bottom of your epidermis, the outer layer of your skin.

Basal cell carcinoma has several different appearances. It can look like a:

  • sore that doesn’t heal after seven to 10 days
  • red patch that may itch, hurt, crust, or bleed easily
  • shiny bump that can be pink, red, or white or brown on lighter skin. If you have darker skin, it can look tan, black, or brown.
  • pink growth with an elevated border and an indented center

This type of skin cancer also usually appears on the areas of your body most exposed to the sun. Basal cell carcinomas tend to be easy to treat. These growths develop very slowly, making it less likely they’ll spread to other organs or invade muscle, bone, or nerves. But you should talk with your doctor if you notice anything new or changes to your skin or if a wound or sore isn’t healing.

Squamous cell carcinomas commonly occur on more sun-exposed body parts. They can also appear on the inside of your mouth or on your genitals. It’s the most common skin cancer in Black people.

The tumors caused by squamous cell carcinoma can take a variety of forms, including:

  • scaly, red to burgundy, or flesh-toned patches that bleed
  • open sores that bleed, crust, and don’t heal
  • tender, raised growths with a center indent that bleeds
  • a growth that resembles a wart, but crusts and bleeds

Squamous cell carcinoma is also known to may feel tender and cause intense itching, which further irritates and inflames your skin. Scratching these areas of your skin can lead to infections that need to be treated with antibiotics.

Left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can grow larger. In rare cases, these lesions can spread to lymph nodes and other organs.

While melanoma isn’t the most common type of skin cancer, it’s the most serious. This type of skin cancer can be found anywhere on your body, even in your eye.

In People of Color, it often occurs in areas that get little sun exposure, usually on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and nails. For individuals who have light or fair skin, it can be often found on the trunk or lower legs.

Use the “ABCDE” method to help determine if a mole or freckle may be melanoma. You’ll want to see your doctor if any of these symptoms apply.

A: asymmetrical

If you drew a line down the middle of a healthy mole, both sides would look very similar. Cancerous moles are asymmetrical. This means that one half of a cancerous mole looks very different from the other.

B: border

The edges of a healthy freckle or mole should look smooth and fairly even. Ragged, raised, or notched borders can be a sign of cancer.

C: change in color

A healthy freckle or mole should be a uniform color. Color variation may be caused by cancer. Keep an eye out for different shades of:

  • tan
  • brown
  • black
  • red
  • white
  • blue

D: diameter

A mole or freckle that’s larger than 6 millimeters (about the diameter of a pencil eraser) may be a sign of skin cancer.

E: evolving

Take note of any new moles or freckles. You should also look for changes in the color or size of your existing moles.

Most types of skin cancer that are diagnosed in the early stages are treated by removing the lesion. This can be done in several ways:

  • Cryosurgery. Liquid nitrogen is applied to your growth to freeze it. The growth then falls off or shrinks without any incisions. This method is often used to treat actinic keratosis.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation. Your growth is scraped off with an instrument known as a curette. The area is then burned with an electrocautery needle to destroy any remaining skin cancer cells.
  • Creams. Your doctor may prescribe topical preparations like imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara) and 5-fluorouracil (Carac, Efudex). You use these creams for several weeks to remove actinic keratosis and superficial basal cell carcinomas.
  • Excisional surgery. Your growth and the surrounding skin that appears healthy are removed with a scalpel. The healthy skin is then tested for evidence of skin cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the procedure is repeated.

Cancer that’s spread to your lymph nodes or other organs will require more invasive treatments. This may include chemotherapy or surgery. Talk with your doctor about the treatment option that’s best for you.

You can lower your risk of developing skin cancer with these prevention tips:

  • Use a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF every day. Apply it 30 minutes before going outside.
  • If you’re sweating a lot or swimming, reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours.
  • Avoid the sun between peak sun hours, which are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you must be outside, wear sunglasses, hats, and light clothing that will cover your skin.
  • Do a self-examination of your skin at least once a month.
  • Have your doctor do an annual examination of your skin.