Summer may be right around the corner, but skin care experts want Canadians to start thinking now about those sunny days - and the toll the sun's rays can take on their skin.

Though it's the least dangerous form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma can be disfiguring if not caught and treated early. The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is diagnosed in more than 60,000 Canadians a year, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association, and it accounts for 80% of all non-melanoma skin cancer cases.

Like other types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is most commonly caused by sun exposure, and a history of sunburns can increase your risk. And while this type of skin cancer used to be most common in older adults, dermatologists say cases among people as young as their teens and twenties are on the rise.

"Frequent severe sunburns and intense sun exposure in childhood increase the risk of basal skin cancer," said Dr. Cheryl Rosen, national director of the Dermatology Association's Sun Awareness Program, in a news release. "Traditionally, we would see this cancer in people over 50, however, the fact that it is showing up in teens and people in their twenties is of great concern to dermatologists.

"The main cause is lifestyle changes," she added. "People are out in the sun at an earlier age. A tan is still looked at as desirable, especially in younger women."

To protect yourself from the sun, dermatologists recommend limiting sun exposure, especially between the peak hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are at their strongest. And when you are outside, make sure to slather on sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 - and don't forget to reapply it if you are outside for prolonged periods or if you swim or sweat. Covering up and taking to the shade can also decrease your exposure to those harmful rays.

But because taking a protective approach isn't always enough, it's also important to know your skin and to know what to look for in order to catch basal cell carcinoma and other types of skin cancer early. Basal cell cancers most commonly appear on sun-exposed areas and can appear as a pimple-like sore that bleeds, crusts over and then reappears; a small reddish bump with a pearly border; or a small, red scaly patch of skin. Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, can appear as a new brown or black freckle-like spot, a mole that changes in size, colour or shape, or other skin lesions.

Once skin cancer is diagnosed, treatment options depend on the size, location and type of tumour. While some types of skin cancer must be removed surgically, others can be treated with creams that are available by prescription from your doctor and applied at home.