Types of Skin Cancer

Don’t let skin cancer catch you by surprise. Everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer can occur in people of all ages, races and nationalities. Sun exposure, the environment and hereditary factors can contribute to the risk of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer can also develop on any part of the body. Sun exposed areas are at highest risks, but other hidden parts of the body can also develop skin cancer. Skin cancer may appear as a pimple that does not heal or a crusted spot or a rash that does not go away or a changing mole or a new mole or a rough spot that itches or bleeds. The most common types of skin cancer are referred to as non-melanoma skin cancer. These include Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous cell carcinoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It typically looks like a flesh-colored, pearl like bump, or pinkish patch of skin. People typically describe it as a pimple that does not heal. Basal Cell Carcinoma usually develops after years of frequent sun exposure or indoor tanning. There is also a genetic or hereditary component to BCC. If diagnosed early BCC is highly treatable. If ignored or not treated BCC can grow deep and penetrate the nerves, muscle and bones causing damage and disfigurement.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. It often appears as a red firm bump, a scaly patch, or an open sore that may bleed and does not heal. Sun exposure is also a contributing factor to getting SCC. Squamous cell carcinoma can also go deeper into the skin and cause damage and disfigurement. Squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated can also spread into the blood stream to other organs. Early diagnosis and treatment is very important in preventing the spread of SCC. SCC can develop from a precancerous skin growth, called Actinic Keratosis (AK’s). AK’s are typically red, dry scaly patches that come and go on sun exposed areas. It is important to treat them to reduce the risk of developing SCC.

Melanoma can be the most serious skin cancer if not caught early, since it has the tendency to spread. It is considered the deadliest form of skin cancer. Sun exposure, tanning beds and genetics can contribute to the development of Melanoma. Early diagnosis is crucial to survival. Melanoma can develop in a mole that you currently have, or it may appear as a dark new spot that appears different than other moles. Knowing the warning signs of Melanoma is extremely important.

The warning signs of Melanoma are referred to as the ABCDE’s of Melanoma. Knowing your ABCDE’s of melanoma is crucial to early diagnosis and survival.

A is for Asymmetry: when a line is drawn halfway through the mole, one half of the mole looks different than the other half.

B is for Border: when the border is not perfectly round, instead it appears irregular, scalloped or poorly defined.

C is for Color: when the spot has varying colors such as different shades of tan or brown or black, or areas of white, red or blue.

D is for Diameter: When a spot starts to enlarge in size or if the spot is greater than 6 millimeters or about the size of a pencil eraser. Usually, melanomas are greater than 6 millimeters, but they can be smaller, so it is important to monitor any changes in size of a spot.

E is for Evolution: This refers to any change in size, shape, or color of a spot. It may also refer to any symptoms that can be associated with the spot such as itching or bleeding.

Regular skin checks at home and yearly skin checks with a dermatologist are very important in preventing the damage that skin cancer may cause. Self-skin checks at home are important for identifying questionable areas that can be addressed by a Board Certified Dermatologists. Yearly skin cancer screening is important for the health of your skin. When doing skin cancer screening, it is important to look at all areas of the body including the scalp, ears, axilla, groin, hands and feet. It is important to stand in front of the mirror when doing your skin check. It is helpful to take photos of any spots of concern in order to address them with your Dermatologist.

There are other forms of skin cancer that have not been addressed that are not as common as the ones mentioned above. Dermatologists are trained in identifying all forms of skin cancer. Early diagnosis of skin cancer is extremely important. Dermatologists have special tools to keep you safe. CalDerm is a great resource of Board Certified Dermatologists in your area. CalDerm is also a great resource for community skin cancer screening programs.