Skin Cancer: What You Need to Know

Statistics on skin cancer are sobering to review, The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), estimates that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer during their lifetime. This means that chances are likely that you or someone you love could be affected by some form of skin cancer.   Understanding the different types of skin cancer and what to look for is extremely important. 


Basal Cell Carcinoma 

BCC is the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year. BCCs arise from abnormal, uncontrolled growth of basal cells.

Because BCCs grow slowly, most are curable and cause minimal damage when caught and treated early. Understanding BCC causes, risk factors and warning signs can help you detect them early.

BCC most often occurs when DNA damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or indoor tanning triggers changes in basal cells in the outermost layer of skin (epidermis), resulting in uncontrolled growth.

BCCs can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, scars or growths with slightly elevated, rolled edges and/or a central indentation. At times, BCCs may ooze, crust, itch or bleed. The lesions commonly arise in sun-exposed areas of the body. In patients with darker skin, about half of BCCs are pigmented (meaning brown in color).


Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin is the second most common form of skin cancer, characterized by abnormal, accelerated growth of squamous cells. When caught early, most SCCs are curable.

Squamous cells are flat cells located near the surface of the skin that shed continuously as new one’s form.  SCC occurs when DNA damage from exposure to ultraviolet radiation or other damaging agents trigger abnormal changes in the squamous cells.

SCCs can appear as scaly red patches, open sores, rough, thickened or wart-like skin, or raised growths with a central depression. At times, SCCs may crust over, itch or bleed. The lesions most commonly arise in sun-exposed areas of the body.

While the majority of SCCs can be easily and successfully treated, if allowed to grow, these lesions can become disfiguring, dangerous and even deadly. Untreated SCCs can become invasive, grow into deeper layers of skin and spread to other parts of the body.



Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that begins in cells known as melanocytes. While it is less common than basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma is more dangerous because of its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if it is not treated at an early stage.

Melanocyte cells produce a pigment known as melanin, which gives skin its color. When skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds, it causes skin damage that triggers the melanocytes to produce more melanin, pigment attempts to protect the skin by causing the skin to darken or tan. Melanoma occurs when DNA damage from burning or tanning due to UV radiation triggers changes (mutations) in the melanocytes, resulting in uncontrolled cellular growth.

Melanomas present in many different shapes, sizes and colors. That is why it is tricky to provide a comprehensive set of warning signs.

Melanoma is usually curable when detected and treated early. Once melanoma has spread deeper into the skin or other parts of the body, it becomes more difficult to treat and can be deadly.



Superficial spreading Melanoma

The most common form of melanoma. It can arise in an existing mole or appear as a new lesion. When it begins in a mole that is already on the skin, it tends to grow on the surface of the skin for some time before penetrating more deeply. While it can be found nearly anywhere on the body, it is most likely to appear on the torso in men, the legs in women and the upper back in both.

It may appear as a flat or slightly raised and discolored, asymmetrical patch with uneven borders. Colors include shades of tan, brown, black, red/pink, blue or white. It can also lack pigment and appear as a pink or skin-tone lesion.

Lentigo Maligna

This form of melanoma often develops in older people. When this cancer becomes invasive or spreads beyond the original site, the disease is known as Lentigo Maligna Melanoma.

This form of melanoma is similar to the superficial spreading type, growing close to the skin surface at first. The tumor typically arises on sun-damaged skin on the face, ears, arms or upper torso.

What it looks like:  It may look like a flat or slightly raised, blotchy patch with uneven borders. Color is usually blue-black but can vary from tan to brown or dark brown.

Acral Lentiginous Melanoma

This is the most common form of melanoma found in darker skin types.  It often appears in hard-to-spot places including under the nails and on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands.  It may appear as a black or brown area.

Nodular Melanoma

This is the most aggressive type of melanoma. It accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all cases.

The tumor grows deeper into the skin more rapidly than other types and is most frequently found on the torso, legs and arms, as well as the scalp in older men. It is usually invasive at the time it is first diagnosed.

Nodular melanoma is often recognized as a bump on the skin, usually blue-black in color, but not uncommonly can also appear as a pink to red bump.

Can Skin Cancer Be Prevented?

The answer is yes, although, some may be predisposed to the condition due to genetics and family history, so taking the following suggestions into consideration is even more important for them.

  1. Minimize time in the sun – avoid high UVA/UVB times 10 am – 3 pm. This means keeping outdoor activities to early mornings or early evenings.  
  2. Where protective clothing – many companies now make UVA/UVB clothing lines that offer clothing options which protect the skin. Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) indicates how much UV radiation (both UVB and UVA) a fabric allows to reach your skin. For example, a UPF 50 fabric blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays and allows two percent (1/50th) to penetrate, thus reducing your exposure risk significantly.
  3. Where a hat and protective eyewear – look for hats that also offer UPF and lenses that have UVA/UVB protection.
  4. Wear SPF – this is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and those you love from dangerous UVA/UVB rays.

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