May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Learn about the different types of skin cancer and what to look for
Not all skin cancers are created equal. Some are more deadly than others. Learn how to detect the signs and symptoms of the different types of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common of all human cancers, with one million people in the U.S. diagnosed each year with some type of the disease.
Cancer occurs when normal cells undergo a transformation and grow and multiply without normal controls. Here are the cancer basics:
- As the cells multiply, they form a mass called a tumor.
- Tumors are cancerous only if they are malignant. This means that they encroach on and invade neighboring tissues (especially lymph nodes) because of their uncontrolled growth.
- Tumors may also travel to remote organs via the bloodstream.This process of invading and spreading to other organs is called metastasis.
- Tumors overwhelm surrounding tissues by invading their space and taking the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive and function.
There are three major types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. The first two skin cancers are grouped together as non-melanoma skin cancers.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Accounting for more than 75 percent of skin cancers diagnosed, basal cell carcinoma is the most commonly developed skin cancer. These carcinomas are most commonly found on the face, neck and hands. It is considered highly treatable and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Symptoms include a sore that oozes or bleeds, a redness area that is irritated, a yellow or white area that resembles a scar, and a pink pearly bump.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. This skin cancer type usually develops in places on the body that have been exposed to the sun, like ears, the face and mouth, but can develop anywhere on the body. Symptoms include a bump that turns into an open sore (ulceration, reddish, flat spot that is sometimes crusty, a bump that gets larger and a sore that won’t heal). When left untreated, it can spread quickly to other parts of the body, like the lymphatic system, bloodstream and nerve routes.
Dr. Bruce Glassman, a dermatologist in Alexandria, Va., says that for non-melanoma skin cancers, doctors are most concerned with any moles or marks that are bleeding, flaking and non-healing of the lesion.
Melanoma is the most dangerous and deadly type of skin cancer.It can develop on any part of the body, however the arms, legs and trunk are the most common area of the body. When detected early, it is considered highly treatable.Symptoms include a mole, freckle or new/existing spot that changes color in size, shape and color. It may have an irregular outline and possible be more than one color.
“For melanoma, we get concerned with changes in color, asymmetry of the entire lesions, irregular borders and any changes in the lesion,” says Dr. Glassman.
Self-examinations and yearly skin checks with dermatologist are very effective ways to monitor for skin cancer and serve as preventive measures. “If the patients follow the suggestions as to what to look for above, they should be able to prevent most skin cancers from becoming major problems,” says Dr. Glassman.
Your best defense in preventing skin cancer is to avoid excessive exposure to the sun. When you are outdoors, always wear a sunscreen and stay in a shady area if possible.
“The best way to prevent skin cancer is to practice safe sun. Sunscreens are critical in keeping the skin healthy, although sunscreens will not prevent old damage from exposure for years and years,” adds Dr. Glassman. “Sun protective measures, i.e. hat, sunscreen, and re-applying SPF 30 or higher are all part of the regimen to keep the skin healthy and safe.”
By Cristi Driver