Skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of his or her lifetime.
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. The first two are slow-growing and easy to treat, but malignant melanoma is a dangerous, fast-growing cancer that spreads very quickly. The incidence of melanoma is rising faster than that of any other cancer.
Melanomas typically change shape or color as they grow. Any spot that changes color or shape should be reported to your provider.
The majority occur on the head, neck, arms, and back, whichever skin is most exposed to sunlight.
Most melanomas are very dark or black, but they can sometimes be lighter brown or even speckled. The surface is usually raised and sometimes rough. They are not normally circular in shape, but some can be nearly circular. In early stages, melanomas often look like moles but with a ragged outline or different shades of color. They may also bleed or ooze.
Basal Cell Carcinomas
The majority of basal cell carcinomas occur on the face. They start as a small, pink, pearly, or waxy spot, often circular or oval in shape and growing into a raised, flat spot with a rolled edge. They may also develop a crust.
Eventually they will begin to bleed from the center and a rodent ulcer develops.
If left long enough, a carcinoma can become quite large and eat away the skin and tissue below.
Squamous Cell Carcinomas
Squamous cell carcinomas are most common on the limbs, head, and neck.
They are pink and irregular in shape, usually with a hard, scaly surface. They can sometimes develop into an ulcer. At times, the carcinoma's edges are raised and can be tender to the touch.
More than 90% of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, yet fewer than 33% of the population routinely uses sun protection. Regular sun protection throughout childhood can reduce the risk of skin cancer by 80%. Because 60% to 80% of the sun’s rays penetrate through clouds, you should protect yourself even when the weather is cloudy.
Avoid being in the sun, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you will be in the sun for any length of time, wear a sun block of SPF 30 or higher. You should also wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, neck, and ears. Do not use tanning beds or sunlamps.
Check your skin every month for signs of skin cancer. If you see an area on your skin that looks unusual, ask your provider about it.