Skin Cancer 2: Types, Prevention, and Detection

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Skin Cancer 2: Types, Prevention, and Detection


To develop an understanding of skin cancer and its different types, how it can be detected, and how it can be prevented.


This lesson is part of the Skin Deep Project, which examines the science behind skin. Skin Deep is developed by AAAS and funded by Neutrogena. For more lessons, activities, and interactives that take a closer look at the science behind skin, be sure to check out the Skin Deep Project page.

This lesson is the second of two lessons about skin cancer using the SCI:Skin Cancer Investigation interactive. In the first lesson, Skin Cancer 1: Exposing Healthy Skin to the Sun, students are introduced to the science behind keeping skin healthy including how it functions to protect the body and what can be done to protect skin cells from mutations caused by excessive sun exposure.

Skin Cancer 2: Types, Prevention, and Detection explores what happens when healthy skin cells mutate and grow uncontrollably, leading to skin cancer. This lesson continues use of the Skin Cancer Investigation interactive by beginning with "Skin Cancer: Types."

In addition to the interactive, students using this lesson will access the online book The Science Inside the Skin for in-depth information about the science of skin.

Students, like many people, take their skin and their youth for granted. They may be unaware that skin is the largest organ in their body. (The human adult is covered in about 22 square feet of skin.) High-school students may be particularly curious about the causes and prevention of skin problems, like acne, but have little knowledge about skin cancer. The Skin Deep Project takes advantage of this curiosity by introducing students in grades 6 through 12 to the science of skin, its role in protecting the body from invading microbes, regulating temperature, and sensing the environment. Through the use of project materials and related lessons, students learn what they can do to protect their skin from disease and harmful bacteria, and most importantly, skin cancer caused by the damaging effects of the sun's ultraviolet rays (UV). In this lesson, students will learn about the different types of skin cancer, how to analyze symptoms, and how to prevent it.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in the following health education standards:

  • Health Education Standard 1:
    Students will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention.

    6.  Describe how to delay onset and reduce risks of potential health problems during adulthood.
  • Health Education Standard 3:
    Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and reduce health risks.

    1. Analyze the role of individual responsibility for enhancing health.
    3. Analyze the short-term and long-term consequences of safe, risky, and harmful behaviors.
    4. Develop strategies to improve or maintain personal, family, and community health.
  • Health Education Standard 6:
    Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting and decision-making skills to enhance health.
    1. Demonstrate the ability to utilize various strategies when making decisions related to health needs and risks of young adults.
    3. Predict immediate and long-term impact of health decisions on the individual, family, and community.
    6. Formulate an effective plan for lifelong health.
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Exposure to the sun without adequate protection can damage DNA in skin cells. The ultraviolet rays (UV) in sunlight cause this damage. Occasional damage to DNA is normally repaired by the body. It is the long-term exposure to UV rays that causes irreparable damage to DNA. The mutated DNA causes cells to mutate and divide uncontrollably. This uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells is skin cancer.

To get an idea of how much students know about skin cancer, engage them in an in-class discussion about how much time they spend outside, whether they use sunscreen, what skin cancer is, what personal experience they have with it, if any, and what they have learned about it by working through the first part of the interactive in Skin Cancer 1. Use these questions to begin a conversation:

  • Are any of you engaged in outdoor activities? If so, what kind of activities?
      (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
  • How much time do you spend outside in the sun?
      (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
  • When you are outside, do you protect yourself from the damaging effects of the sun's UV rays? If so, how?
      (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
  • What do you know about skin cancer?
      (Answers will vary.)
  • Describe the ways in which skin cells and tissues change when cancer develops.
      (The cells divide and mutate uncontrollably. They continue to mutate and grow rapidly, causing a tumor to form in a layer of the skin.)
  • Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with skin cancer?
      (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
  • If so, what conclusions might you have drawn from that person's experience with skin cancer?
      (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
  • How would you rate skin cancer in comparison to other kinds of cancer, in terms of survival and severity of disease?
      (Answers will vary, but skin cancer is often taken less seriously than other forms of cancer because it is usually easily treated by removing the growth, and no other treatment is necessary. However, if left untreated, it can become deadly.)


Our skin is a window to our body's health and it serves as an early warning system alerting us that something might be wrong internally. Our skin texture, temperature, and color can provide hints that something is wrong. Hot skin can mean you have a fever. Yellow skin (jaundice) can indicate a problem with the liver. Or an irregular-shaped, mole-like brown spot that suddenly appears can be a sign of skin cancer.

Using the Skin Cancer Types, Prevention, and Detection student esheet, students should go to the SCI: Skin Cancer Investigation interactive. Once there, they should go to the Menu button, and click on "Skin Cancer: Types" where they should begin to work their way through the interactive. Students should follow the Menu selections and answer each series of related questions. The answers to these questions can be found on the Skin Cancer Types, Prevention, and Detection teacher sheet.

Once students have gone through the "Skin Cancer: Types" and "Skin Cancer: Prevention and Detection" sections, they should use their esheet to go on to the "Glowell Clinic" and follow the directions for that section. After they have gone through that section, bring them back together as a class and discuss their answers to the questions and their thoughts about the examples of skin cancer that they saw.

Now that students have learned more about the different types of skin cancer, break students into groups and assign a skin cancer type to each group. Each group is responsible for creating a poster that provides information about the skin cancer, including the cancer's characteristics, warning signs, and the ways in which the cancer can be treated. The poster should include text and images.


To assess students' understanding of skin cancer, ask students to read Part 4: Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer in The Science Inside Skin. After they have read this chapter, discuss these questions with the students.

  • To review, what are skin cancers?
      (They are tissue masses or growths resulting from the accumulation of old skin cells or excessive production of new skin cells.)
  • What are the two kinds of tumors and their characteristics?
      (The two kinds of tumors are malignant and benign. Malignant tumors are life threatening, recurring, spread to other parts of the body, require surgery to remove, and can interfere with functions of the body. Benign tumors may require surgery to remove but that is the only characteristic they have in common with malignant tumors.)
  • Besides skin cancer, how can the sun's UV rays damage our skin?
      (The UV rays cause age spots, spider veins, rough, leathery skin, and wrinkles.)
  • What is SPF? What number and kind of sunscreen do doctors recommend? When should you use sunscreen?
      (SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. Doctors recommend an SPF of 30 or higher and broad spectrum, which protects against UVA and UVB rays. You should use sunscreen every time you go outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
  • Some teenagers think they can't get skin cancer. Is this true, and if so why or why not?
      (No, it is not true. Teens with light and dark skin are susceptible to skin cancer caused by too much sun exposure or from tanning booths.)
  • What are some other actions you can take to prevent and detect skin cancer?
      (Don't wait to talk to a doctor. Skin conditions and skin cancer are treatable. Waiting to see a doctor about changes in a mole or birthmark could limit your options for treatment and ultimately could make it hard to prevent it from spreading to other parts of your body. Limit direct exposure to midday sunlight between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Do not use tanning beds or sunlamps.)

Now that students have learned more about the different types of skin cancer, have them write an essay in response to one of these scenarios, also found on the What Would You Do? student sheet:

Carla goes to the beach with some friends. When they arrive at noon, Carla lies down on the blanket exposed to the full summer sun. As one of Carla's friends, you offer her sunscreen but she declines saying, "I don't sunburn. I'm from Brazil so my naturally dark complexion protects me from the sun." You recall what you have learned about skin cancer from this lesson. What would you say to Carla?


Mike complains about an itchy pimple on the back of his neck that just won't go away. He says the pimple is in the same spot as a birthmark that's been there as long as he can remember. You ask him how long he's had the itchy pimple and he tells you it's been a month or two. Based upon what you learned in this lesson, what advice would you give to Mike?


What is the likelihood students will be diagnosed with skin cancer when adults? This lesson, Cancer Risks, describes the environmental and hereditary factors that can lead to diagnosis later in life. This lesson can be particularly important in light of new studies that show that the incidence of skin cancer has doubled since 1994.

Students could read the article "Skin Cancer Survivors Join Dermatologists to Educate Teens about Risks of Indoor Tanning" from Medical News Today. It features two teens who were diagnosed with melanoma after using tanning beds prior to attending their high-school proms. The article points out the dangers of using tanning beds, even for a limited amount of time, and the surprise these teens had when they got their diagnosis at such young ages.

Rays of Awareness: Preventing Science Cancer is a lesson from the Skin Cancer Foundation that helps students learn about ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and tanning beds, how it affects their skin, and why protecting themselves from both forms of UV exposure is critical to preventing skin cancer.

Funder Info
This content was created with support from Neutrogena.

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