What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in America, but it is also one of the most curable if detected and treated early. It develops when unchecked DNA damage triggers cells to grow uncontrollably and form cancerous tumors.
DNA damage to skin cells is most commonly caused by intense intermittent or cumulative sustained exposure to UV radiation from the sun and from tanning beds. While skin cancer lesions typically occur on sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, hands, neck, ears, scalp, shoulders, and back, they can also appear on unexposed areas of the body.
Lesions take on a different appearance depending on the type of skin cancer present—basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or melanoma.
The most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma arises from basal cells in the upper layer of skin. It can show up as a shiny flesh-colored mole or bump, and can be pigmented on darker skin. It may also appear as a red or pink scaly sore.
The second most common form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma can grow and spread to other organs if not caught and treated expediently. It can present as a scaly red patch or as an open sore that can crust over, itch, and bleed. Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops on areas of the skin which have chronic sun damage, i.e. areas that are exposed every day like the face, the scalp, the ears an the backs of the hands.
The most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma occurs when skin cells called melanocytes mutate and grow uncontrolled. They surface as mole-like spots with misshapen borders, and they can appear anywhere on the body but most commonly on the chest and back of men, and the legs of women. They commonly occur in areas of previous sunburns or intense UV exposure.
Your dermatologist will examine any skin changes and likely take a biopsy of suspicious areas to determine if skin cancer is present, as well as the type and stage. Treatment is determined by the type, size, depth, and location of skin cancer lesions.
|Basal Cell Carcinoma||Squamous Cell Carcinoma||Melanoma|
|U.S. Cases per Year||4.3 million||1+ million||200,000|
|U.S. Deaths per Year||2000||15,000||7000|
|Appearance||• Shiny flesh-colored mole or pimple|
• Red or pink scaly sore
|• Scaly red patch|
• Open scabby sore that can itch and bleed
|• Mole-like spot with misshapen borders|
• Painful, itching or burning sore
• Dark lesion with discolored border
|Treated with Cryosurgery|
|Treated with Excisional Surgery|
|Treated with Mohs Surgery|
|Treated with Curettage & Electrodesiccation|
|Treated with Laser Surgery|
|Treated with Radiation Therapy|
|Treated with Photodynamic Therapy|
|Treated with Topical Medications|
|Treated with Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy|
|Treated with Immunotherapy|
|Treated with Targeted Therapy Drugs|
You can stay protected by avoiding unprotected exposure to ultraviolet rays, which means setting boundaries with the sun and opting out of indoor tanning.
The sun is always shining down, even on cloudy days. Its rays reflect off water, sand, snow, concrete, and glass. Accumulated exposure, which can show up as a tan or a sunburn, leaves you vulnerable to melanoma and other skin cancers. That’s why practicing safe sun is important year-round.
Melanoma may be more rare than basal and squamous cell cancers, but it is also the most aggressive, spreading rapidly to other organs if not treated quickly. Check out this video to learn more about melanoma, including your risk and how to keep yourself safe.