What is skin cancer?

People get cancer when some cells in the body are damaged and start growing way too fast. These growing cells make spots or bumps called tumors. Nobody knows why some people get cancer and others don't. Lots of different things can cause cancer and sometimes doctors don't know what causes it. But they do know for sure that the sun is one of the things that causes skin cancer.

                Melanoma on the skin An example of melanoma.

Here's what you should know about the sun, tanning beds, and skin cancer:

  • The sun damages your skin. This happens because the sun gives off a type of light called ultraviolet rays, or UV rays. These rays damage your skin and can give you skin cancer. Sunscreen helps keep these rays from hurting your skin.
  • Tanning beds damage your skin, too. Getting a tan from a tanning bed is a really bad idea. Tanning beds use UV rays, so they damage your skin just like the sun does.
  • Melanoma is the most serious kind of skin cancer. It often begins in moles. You probably have lots of moles and probably will get new ones. Moles are very common, and most are no big deal.

    But if you have a mole that looks really different from the others, that itches or bleeds, has a weird shape or has different colors, talk to your parents. They might want to take you to a skin doctor (dermatologist) to check it out. If anyone in your family has had melanoma, you need to be extra careful with your exposure to UV rays. 

The good thing about skin cancer is that it's right there on your skin, so you can see it and show it to a doctor. Then, the doctor can treat it to make it go away. Kids don't get skin cancer very often. But it can sometimes happen, so it's better to be safe and check it out.

Next: How to prevent skin cancer

Photo references:

Photo used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.