Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells that is usually caused by frequent exposure to the sun. The different types and stages of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and in its early stages, it is highly treatable.
Signs and Symptoms
Each type of skin cancer may present different signs and symptoms. The majority of skin cancers present signs in skin ordinarily exposed to the sun, although it's not uncommon for signs to appear anywhere on the body, even areas not exposed to sunlight.
Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, can develop within an already existing mole, or can appear as a new spot on the skin. The following are the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma:
- A - Asymmetry
- B - Border irregularity
- C - Color irregularity
- D - Diameter greater than 6mm, about the size of a pencil eraser, though some can be smaller
- E - Evolving, changing
- "Ugly Duckling Sign" when a spot looks different from the others
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma can appear as:
- A shiny, pearly or waxy spot
- A scaly spot
- A sore that does not heal
- A scab that heals and returns
- A red firm bump
Precancerous spots, called actinic keratoses, can appear as rough or scaly patches most commonly on the head, ears, and hands.
What Are the Causes?
There are many factors that can increase your risk of skin caner. They include:
Genetics: Individuals with fair skin, light-colored eyes, or blonde or red hair are more likely to have skin cancer. A family history of skin cancer also puts you at an increased risk.
Lifestyle: If you have a history of one or more blistering sunburns or have spent considerable time in the sun or in a tanning booth, you have an increased risk of cancer due to exposure to UV radiation.
If you notice a growth that concerns you, visit your health care provider. During a skin exam, your doctor will make note of any suspicious moles or growths on your body including the size, color and any changes that your report. Your doctor may use a dermatoscope to see spots on your skin more clearly.
If your dermatologist believes a spot on your skin looks suspicious, a biopsy will be done. During a biopsy, a sample of skin is removed for review by a pathologist.
The majority of skin cancer, when caught early, can be treated with surgical removal. Some superficial skin cancers are even treated with topical cream. In some cases, other treatments are needed. If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, your dermatologist will work with you to determine the best treatment for your skin cancer. If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, your care team will work with you to develop a treatment plan specific to your medical needs.