What is Skin Cancer?
Any type of cancer develops when DNA, the molecule found in cells that encodes genetic information, becomes damaged and the body cannot repair the damage. When these damaged cells begin to grow and divide uncontrollably, the result is cancer. In the skin, DNA damage leads to skin cancer. Because changes in the skin are readily visible, skin cancers can be detected at an early stage.
What are the warnings signs of Skin Cancer?
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change to your skin. This change can take many forms, including:
- Translucent pearl-shaped bump or growth
- A pimple that doesn’t go away
- Mole that has begun to grow, bleed, and/or itch
- Brown or black streak underneath a nail
- Sore that repeatedly heals and reopens
- Smooth, waxy lesion
- A painful skin lesion
- Cluster of slow growing, shiny or scaly lesions that are pink or red
- Mole that has begun to grow, bleed, and/or itch
- Mole with any ABCDE feature:
- Asymmetrical. If lesion were folded in half, the two sides would not match
- Borders irregular
- Color varies. We would also include Change
- Diameter greater than 6 mm (size of pencil eraser). While melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm when diagnosed, they definitely can be smaller.
- Evolving. A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
You can help prevent skin cancer by seeking shade, covering up, and wearing sunscreen. Please exam your skin and look for new or changing spots.
If you detect any of these skin changes please contact My Dermatologist for an evaluation.
What are the different types of Skin Cancer?
Three types of skin cancer account for nearly 100% of all diagnosed cases. Each of these three cancers begins in a different type of cell within the skin, and each cancer is named for the type of cell in which it begins. Skin cancers are divided into one of two classes - nonmelanoma skin cancers and melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The three most common types of skin cancer are:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
The most common cancer in humans, BCC develops in more than 1 million people every year in the United States alone. About 80% of all skin cancers are BCC, a cancer that develops in the basal cells - skin cells located in the lowest layer of the epidermis. BCC can take several forms. It can appear as a shiny translucent or pearly nodule, a sore that continuously heals and then re-opens, a pink slightly elevated growth, reddish irritated patches of skin, or a waxy scar. Most BCCs appear on skin with a history of exposure to the sun, such as the face, ears, scalp, and upper trunk. These tumors tend to grow slowly. These tumors very rarely metastasize (cancer spreads to other parts of the body), dermatologists encourage early diagnosis and treatment to prevent extensive damage to surrounding tissue.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
About 16% of diagnosed skin cancers are SCC. This cancer begins in the squamous cells, which are found in the upper layer of the epidermis. About 200,000 cases are diagnosed ever year. SCC tends to develop in fair-skinned, middle-aged and elderly people who have had long-term chronic sun exposure. It most often appears as a crusted or scaly area of skin. It may be a red scaly, growing, painful or non-healing ulcer area on the skin. While most commonly found on sun-exposed areas of the body, it can develop anywhere, including where the sun does not shine (including the inside of the mouth and the genitalia). SCC may arise from actinic keratoses, which are precancerous dry, scaly lesions that may be skin-colored, reddish-brown or yellowish-black. SCC requires early treatment to prevent metastasis (spreading).
Accounting for about 4% of all diagnosed skin cancers, melanoma begins in the melanocytes, cells within the epidermis that give skin its color. Melanoma has been coined “the most lethal form of skin cancer” because it can rapidly spread to the lymph system and internal organs. In the United States alone, approximately one person dies from melanoma every hour. Older Caucasian men have the highest mortality rate. Dermatologists believe this is due to the fact that they are less likely to heed the early warning signs. With early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for melanoma is about 95%. Once its spreads, the prognosis is poor. Melanoma may develop in a pre-existing mole or could be a new spot. This is why it is important for people to know what their moles look like and be able to detect changes to existing moles and notice new spots.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, “Many of the more than 1 million skin cancers diagnosed each year could be prevented with protection from the sun’s rays.” Scientists now know that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays damages DNA in the skin. The body can usually repair this damage before gene mutations occur and cancer develops. When a person’s body cannot repair the damaged DNA, which can occur with cumulative sun exposure in addition to advancing age, cancer develops. In some cases, skin cancer is an inherited condition. Between 5% and 10% of melanomas develop in people with a family history of melanoma.
Who Gets Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer develops in people of all colors, from the palest to the darkest. However, skin cancer is most likely to occur in those who have fair skin, light-colored eyes, blonde or red hair, a tendency to burn or freckle when exposed to the sun, those with 50 or a greater number of moles, and a history of sun exposure. Anyone with a family history of skin cancer also has an increased risk of developing skin cancer. In dark-skinned individuals, melanoma most often develops on non-sun-exposed areas, such as the foot, underneath nails, and on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nasal passages, or genitals. Those with fair skin also can have melanoma develop in these non-sun exposed areas making it important to be aware of one’s own skin.
What can be done to prevent skin cancer?
Sun protection can significantly decrease a person’s risk of developing skin cancer. Sun protection practices include staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the rays are strongest, applying a broad-spectrum (offers UVA and UVB protection) sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher year-round to all exposed skin, and wearing protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when outdoors.
Since skin cancer is so prevalent today, My Dermatologist also recommends that everyone learn how to recognize the signs of skin cancer, use this knowledge to perform regular examinations of their skin, and see a dermatologist annually (more frequently if at high risk) for an exam. Skin cancer is highly curable with early detection and proper treatment.