The outer layer of the skin is known as the epidermis. Cancer that begins in the skin is called skin cancer.
There are two common types of skin cancer that are known as nonmelanoma skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Basal cell carcinoma accounts for more than 90 percent of skin cancers in the U.S. It grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma rarely spreads throughout the body, but does so more often than basal cell carcinoma.
Melanoma is a different type of cancer that begins in the epidermal cells. Melanoma is a type of malignant tumor.
What causes skin cancer and how can it be prevented? Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. It is estimated that 40 to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will develop some type of skin cancer at least once in their lifetime.
The main cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun. Skin cancer may also be caused by artificial sources, such as tanning booths. Most skin cancers appear after age 50. Skin cancer may be caused by lifetime UV exposure. Damage to the skin begins at an early age and therefore protection should begin during childhood.
Midday sun exposure (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. standard time or 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daylight-saving time) should be avoided when possible. Protective clothing should be worn and sunscreen applied on exposed areas of the body. Sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher are best to block out the harmful UV rays.
Everyone is at risk for skin cancer. Studies suggest that risk is higher for people who are fair skinned and freckle easily. Such individuals often have blonde or red hair and blue or light colored eyes.
People who have developed skin cancer previously have higher risk. There are also rare skin diseases that may increase the risk of developing the disease.
Both types of skin cancer will most often appear on areas of the body that get the most UV exposure. Skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body. A change on the skin is the best warning sign of possible skin cancer. The change can be a new growth or a sore that does not heal.
A skin cancer form such as the following can appear:
- Small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump
- Firm red lump
- Lump that bleeds or develops a crust
- Flat, red spot that is dry, rough or scaly
All individuals should check themselves regularly for new growths or changes and abnormalities of the skin. If such skin changes are found, a doctor should also check the skin changes immediately. The ABCD rule for early melanoma detection is an easy guide to the usual signs of melanoma defined by the American Cancer Society. Notify your physician if you experience any of the following changes:
- A is for ASYMMETRY: One-half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
- B is for BORDER: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
- C is for COLOR: The color is not the same all over but may have differing shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white or blue.
- D is for DIAMETER: The area is larger than six millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger.
The most important warning sign for skin cancer is a spot on the skin that is changing size, shape or color over a period of one month or one to two years.
Follow this link for the American Cancer Society's screening guidelines.
Skin cancers are generally diagnosed in the same way. A physician will perform a biopsy and remove the growth, either partially or entirely. The skin is examined by a pathologist for determining whether it is skin cancer.
- Surgery is used most often to remove the skin cancer.
- Curettage: Scooping out the skin cancer
- Electrodesiccation: Uses an electric current to kill cancer cells
- Mohs' Surgery: The cancerous tissue is removed. Mohs' is also used to remove large tumors in areas that are hard to treat.
- Cryosurgery: The use of liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill the abnormal skin growth.
- Laser Therapy: Laser therapy uses a beam of light to destroy or remove the cancerous cells.
- Radiation Therapy: Also called radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy the cancer cells and stop their growth process.
- Topical Chemotherapy: The use of anti-cancer drugs in the form of a cream or lotion that is applied to the skin cancer is called topical chemotherapy.
- Clinical Trials: Clinical trials may be utilized for studying possible new skin cancer treatments.
Skin cancer can reoccur even after it is treated and cured. It is important to continue self-exams and regular visits to a doctor.
For a physician referral, call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355).