With more than a million new cases a year, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in this country.* If it's caught early, skin cancer can be very treatable. For some people, however, it might be just a warning sign of more problems to come.

Susan Lasure says learning to embroider took a lot of patience and determination - qualities that have come in handy during her battle with cancer, which all started more than 12 years ago with a spot on her face. "It was a very fast-growing tumor. It was right on the side of my nose and it got big very quickly," says Lasure.

Doctors removed the tumor and Susan thought her bout with cancer was over - but it was just beginning. Susan has a genetic condition called Muir-Torre syndrome. After developing colon cancer years later, doctors realized the tumor on her face was more significant than they thought. "Besides a family history, these skin tumors may be the only sort of warning sign that a patient may have of a hereditary cancer syndrome such as this," says Dr. Chris South, an oncologist with the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University.

South says now that scientists have made the link between skin cancer and the risk of colorectal cancer, they might be able to use one to help prevent the other. In a recent study, doctors at the James say 6 out of 10 patients with colorectal cancer actually had skin cancer first - often years earlier.

"So that's potentially 60% of colorectal cancers that could have been prevented through high-risk cancer screening and surveillance strategies," says South.

Susan now undergoes regular tests to screen for other forms of cancer. Her family has been tested as well. A genetic test showed that Susan is the only one with Muir-Torre syndrome, which means the rest of her family most likely won't face the same challenges she did.

Experts say if you have a history of cancer in your family, especially skin cancer and colorectal cancer, you should talk to a genetic counselor.

*Basal Cell Carcinoma, Skin Cancer Foundation, retrieved March 2008 at http://www.skincancer.org

Ohio State University