Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Every year more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with a type of skin cancer, and every hour an American will die from melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. Fortunately, skin cancers, including melanoma, can be successfully treated the earlier they are detected.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. Skin cancer most often develops on skin that’s exposed to the sun. Skin cancer can, however, also occur on areas of the skin that aren’t normally exposed to sunlight.
If you have (or have had) "any" of the following you could be at higher risk for melanoma and other types of skin cancers:
- Sunburns (at least one blistering burn) as a child or adolescent.
- Fair skin and light colored eyes.
- A personal history of melanoma or other skin cancers.A family history of melanoma.
- Multiple moles.
- Atypical (oddly shaped) moles.
- A mole or lesion that is changing size or shape or is itching or bleeding.
- A history of UVA sunbed/tanning salon use.
Skin cancer develops primarily on areas of the skin that are exposed to sunlight. But skin cancer can also form on areas that aren't typically exposed to the sun (palms, beneath your fingernails, spaces between your toes or under your toenails, and your genital area).
Cancerous skin lesions can appear suddenly or develop slowly. The speed at which they develop and how they look depends on the type of skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma—the most serious skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. This non-melanoma skin cancer is also the most easily treated and the least likely to spread of the three types of skin cancer. Although it’s rarely fatal, it can cause extensive damage to surrounding tissue and bone if left untreated. It can also have a high reoccurrence rate. Most basal cell carcinomas are caused by long-term exposure to the sun. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as:
- A pearly or waxy bump on your face, ears or neck.
- A flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion on the chest or back.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. When caught early, the non-melanoma squamous cell carcinoma is highly treatable and rarely causes additional problems. However, if left untreated the skin cancer can grow large or spread to other parts of your body, causing serious complications. Most squamous cell carcinomas are caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from the sun, tanning beds or lamps. Some can also result from viruses or chronic wounds. Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as:
- A firm, red nodule on the face, lips, ears, neck, arms or hands.
- A flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface on the face, ears, necks, arms or hands.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops in the cells that produce melanin (the pigment that gives your skin its color). Melanoma can also form in the eyes, and rarely, in internal organs. The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t known, but exposure to sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk for this type of skin cancer significantly. Melanoma usually appears in men on the torso, head or neck. In women, it most often develops on the arms or legs. Warning signs include:
- A large brownish spot with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.
- A mole located anywhere on the body that changes in color, size or feel or that bleeds.
- A small lesion (on the trunk or limbs) with an irregular border and red, white, blue or blue-black spots.
- Shiny, firm, dome-shaped bumps located anywhere on the body.
- Dark lesions on the palms, soles, fingertips and toes, or on mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose, vagina and anus.
Regular self checks following the ABCDE criteria from the American Academy of Dermatology can help you notice any warning signs of the different types of skin cancer. If you notice any suspicious changes in your skin, you should see your doctor immediately. Your doctor may suspect skin cancer by simply looking at your skin. However, the only way for your doctor or dermatologist to really determine whether a mole or lesion is skin cancer is to take a biopsy of your skin for analysis in a lab. A biopsy can usually be performed in a doctor’s office using a local anesthetic. CentraState also offers MoleSafe
, an advanced technology for the early detection of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is either local (the cancer affects the skin only), or metastatic (cancer has spread beyond the skin). Because local skin cancers such as basal or squamous cell rarely spread, a biopsy is often the only test needed to determine the skin cancer stage. If you have a large growth that’s been there for a while, your doctor may do further tests to determine the extent of the cancer.