Skin Cancer (the abnormal growth of skin cells) most often develops on skin exposed to the sun. But this common form of cancer can also occur in areas of your skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. There are three major types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. You can reduce your risk by limiting or avoiding exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Checking your skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages. Early skin cancer detection gives you the most excellent chance for successful treatment. Skin Cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs in women. But it can also form in areas that rarely see the light of day.
It could be your palms, beneath your fingernails or toenails, and your genital area. In most cases, skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions. When melanoma occurs in people with dark skin tones, it’s more likely to occur in areas not generally exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Thus, being self-aware is always vital.
It’s important to realize that skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S. About 1 in 5 people develop skin cancer at some point. Multiple sunburns can lead to premature skin aging and skin cancer. In that case, you can minimize your risk of sunburn by taking steps to protect your skin daily. It’s essential to pay attention to your sun exposure when you are outdoors. Learn more!
Understanding How Skin Cancer Usually Occurs Plus The Most Common Types
Skin Cancer is the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations. These mutations lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Usually, the main types of skin cancer are Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), Melanoma, and Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC).
Realistically, skin cancer can spread to nearby tissue or other areas in your body if not caught early. Fortunately, most related cases are cured if skin cancer is identified and treated in the early stages. So, you must talk with your healthcare provider if you have any skin cancer signs. Skin Cancer happens when something changes how your skin cells grow, like exposure to ultraviolet light.
Most sunburns occur from exposure to the sun’s Ultraviolet (UV) rays or UV light from artificial sources. By all means, you can usually treat first- and second-degree sunburns at home. Third-degree sunburns are very rare but need emergency treatment. A sunburn can cause premature skin aging and skin cancer. You can lessen your risk of sunburn by taking steps to protect your skin.
Symptoms include new bumps or patches on your skin or changes in the size, shape, or color of skin growths. Most skin cancer is treatable if it’s caught early. Treatments include Mohs surgery, cryotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation. Skin Cancer looks different depending on what type of skin cancer you have. Be that as it may, thinking of the ABCDE rule tells you what signs to watch for.
Consider the following:
- Asymmetry: Irregular shape.
- Border: Blurry or irregularly shaped edges.
- Color: Mole with more than one color.
- Diameter: Larger than a pencil eraser (6 millimeters).
- Evolution: Enlarging, changing in shape, color or size. (This is the most critical sign.)
As a rule of thumb, if you’re worried about a mole or another skin lesion, make an appointment and show it to your healthcare provider. They’ll check your skin and ask you to see a dermatologist to evaluate the lesion further. As mentioned, the leading cause of skin cancer is overexposure to sunlight, especially when sunburn and blistering—UV rays from the sun damage DNA in your skin.
Generally speaking, skin cancers can look quite different from one person to another due to skin tone, size, type of skin cancer, and location on the body. See our Skin Cancer Pictures page for photos to help you understand what skin cancers can look like. As a result, they cause abnormal cells to form. These abnormal cells rapidly divide disorganizedly, forming a mass of cancer cells.
Skin Cancer Types:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma forms in your basal cells in the lower part of your epidermis (the outside layer of your skin).
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma forms in your squamous cells in the outside layer of your skin.
- Melanoma forms in cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, a brown pigment that gives your skin its color and protects against some of the sun’s damaging UV rays. This is the most severe type of skin cancer because it can quickly spread.
The type of skin cancer a person gets is determined by where the cancer begins. If the tumor starts in skin cells called basal cells, the person has basal cell skin cancer. When cells that give our skin its color become cancerous, melanoma develops. Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you. However, not all skin changes are cancerous.
When you realize you have an issue and seek medical attention, your healthcare provider will check your skin, take a biopsy (if needed), diagnose, and discuss the best treatment methods. You should see a dermatologist annually for a complete skin review.
Other Cancer Types:
Basal cell carcinoma (BCCs) are abnormal, uncontrolled growths that arise from the skin’s basal cells in the outermost layer of skin (epidermis). These cancers often develop on skin areas typically exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. Most BCCs are caused by intermittent, intense exposure and cumulative, long-term exposure to the sun’s UV radiation.
BCC is the most common skin cancer, with approximately 3.6 million cases diagnosed annually in the US. They can be locally destructive if not detected and treated early. Occasionally, these cancers metastasize (spread); in sporadic instances, they can be fatal. The most common warning sign is a change on your skin — typically a new growth or a change in an existing growth or mole.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising from the squamous cells in the outmost layer of skin (epidermis). SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer. It’s standard on sun-exposed areas such as the ears, face, scalp, neck, and hands. These are places where the skin often reveals signs of sun damage, including wrinkles and age spots.
The most common symptoms include:
- New moles, or a mole that changes in size, shape, color, or bleeds.
- A pearly or waxy bump on your face, ears, or neck.
- Sometimes, a flat, pink/red- or brown-colored patch or bump.
- A rough, scaly lesion that might itch, bleed, and become crusty.
- Areas on your skin that look like scars.
- Sores that look crusty have a depression in the middle or bleed often.
- A wound or sore that won’t heal or that heals but comes back again.
As mentioned, cumulative, long-term exposure to UV from the sun and tanning beds causes most SCCs. SCCs can sometimes increase and metastasize if not detected and treated early. Conversely, Melanoma is the most dangerous of the three most common forms of skin cancer. It develops from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin pigment, which gives skin its color.
Luckily, Melanomas can be curable when caught and treated early. They often resemble moles and sometimes may arise from them. Still, they can appear on any body area, even in regions not typically sun exposure. For your information, Melanoma is often triggered by intense, intermittent sun exposure that leads to sunburn. Tanning bed use also increases the risk of Melanoma.
Lastly, Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, aggressive skin cancer. These tumors usually appear as firm, painless lesions or nodules on a sun-exposed area (about half the time on the head and neck and frequently on the eyelids). Usually associated with the Merkel cell polyomavirus virus, MCCs most often arise in sun-exposed areas in fair-skinned individuals over 50 years.
High chances of skin cancer sources:
- Spend a considerable amount of time working or playing in the sun.
- Get easily sunburned or have a history of sunburns.
- Tan or use tanning beds.
- Have light-colored eyes, blond or red hair, and fair or freckled skin.
- If you have had an organ transplant.
- Have many moles or irregularly shaped moles.
- Take medications that suppress or weaken your immune system.
- Have actinic keratosis (precancerous skin growths that are rough, scaly, dark pink-to-brown patches).
- Live in a sunny or high-altitude climate.
- Have a family history of skin cancer.
- Have been exposed to UV light therapy for treating skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
In layman’s language, anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of race or sex. But some groups get it more than others. Before age 50, skin cancer is more common in women and people Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB). After 50, though, it’s more common in men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). And it’s about 30 times more common in non-Hispanic white people.
More so than non-Hispanic Black people or people of Asian/Pacific Islander descent. Unfortunately, skin cancer is often diagnosed in later stages for people with darker skin tones. This makes it more challenging to treat. Although anyone can develop skin cancer, you’re at increased risk if you exhibit some of the following common exposure cases. Early detection and treatment are crucial.
How The Cancerous Disease Is Medically Diagnosed: The Most Common Tests
Remember, UV rays from the sun damage your skin, leading to cancer. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid too much sunlight and sunburn. The earlier skin cancer is found and removed, the better the chances of a full recovery. It’s vital to continue following up with your dermatologist to ensure the cancer doesn’t return. If something seems wrong, call your doctor right away.
It’s important to realize that cancer stages tell you how much cancer is in your body—the locations of skin cancer range from stage 0 to stage IV. On the one hand, the higher the number, the more cancer has spread and the harder it is to treat. However, Melanoma staging differs from non-melanoma skin cancers starting in basal or squamous cells. Treatment depends on the stage of cancer.
Technically, most skin cancer deaths are from Melanoma. If you’re diagnosed with Melanoma, the five-year survival rate is 99% if detected before it spreads to your lymph nodes. Still, the five-year survival rate is 66% if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Likewise, the five-year survival rate is 27% if it has spread to distant lymph nodes and other organs. See a healthcare provider sooner.
Resource Reference: The Simple Steps For Skin Protection During A Summer Season
Make an appointment to see a healthcare provider or dermatologist as soon as you notice any changes to your skin or changes in the size, shape, or color of existing moles or other skin lesions. Or the appearance of new growth on your skin, a sore that doesn’t heal, spots on your skin that are different from others, any areas that change, itch or bleed, and more. The earlier, the better!
On the other hand, a biopsy alone can remove all the cancer tissue if it’s small and limited to the skin’s surface. First, a dermatologist may ask you if you’ve noticed changes in any existing moles, freckles, or other skin spots or if you’ve noticed any new skin growths. Next, they’ll examine your skin, including your scalp, ears, palms of your hands, soles of your feet, or between toes.
As well as around your genitals and between your buttocks. If your provider suspects skin cancer, they may perform a biopsy. A tissue sample is often removed in a biopsy and sent to a laboratory, where a pathologist examines it under a microscope. With that in mind, your dermatologist will tell you if your skin lesion is skin cancer, what type you have, and discuss treatment options.
- Cryotherapy: Your dermatologist uses liquid nitrogen to freeze skin cancer. The dead cells slough off after treatment.
- Excisional Surgery: Your dermatologist removes the tumor and some surrounding healthy skin to be sure all the cancer is gone.
- Mohs Surgery: Your dermatologist removes only diseased tissue, saving as much surrounding normal tissue as possible. Providers use this to treat basal and squamous cell cancers and, sometimes, other skin cancers that develop near sensitive or cosmetically essential areas, like your eyelids, ears, lips, forehead, scalp, fingers, or genital area.
- Curettage/Electrodesiccation: Your dermatologist uses an instrument with a sharp, looped edge to remove cancer cells as they scrape across the tumor. Then, they use an electric needle to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Providers often use this to treat basal and squamous cell cancers and precancerous skin tumors.
- Chemotherapy: Your dermatologist or oncologist uses medications to kill cancer cells. Anticancer medicines can be applied directly on the skin (topical chemotherapy) if limited to your skin’s top layer or provided through pills or an IV if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.
- Immunotherapy: Your oncologist gives you medications to train your immune system to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation Therapy: Your oncologist uses radiation (intense energy beams) to kill or keep cancer cells from growing and dividing.
- Photodynamic Therapy: Your dermatologist coats your skin with medication, which they activate with a blue or red fluorescent light. This therapy destroys precancerous cells while leaving normal cells alone.
Markedly, the side effects of skin cancer treatment depend on what treatments your healthcare provider thinks will work best for you. Chemotherapy can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and hair loss. Other side effects or complications include bleeding, pain, swelling, scars, nerve damage that results in loss of feeling, skin infection, and regrowth of the tumor after it’s been removed.
Getting To Know How Skin Cancer Can Become A Life-Threatening Disease
First, scientists don’t fully know why people with darker skin tones develop cancer in non-sun-exposed areas like the palms of your hands and feet. Secondly, they think the sun is less of a factor. That said, dermatologists still see plenty of harmful Ultraviolet (UV) sunlight-induced melanomas and squamous cell skin cancer in people with skin tones ranging from fair to very dark.
You may wonder how it becomes a life-threatening cancer. It seems logical to think you could scrape off the skin with the cancer cells or even remove the cancerous skin lesion with a minor skin surgery, and that’s all that would be needed. These techniques are successfully used if cancer is caught early. But if skin cancer isn’t detected early, something “just on my skin” can grow.
It can then spread beyond the immediate area. Cancer cells can break away and travel through your bloodstream or lymph system. They can settle in other areas of your body and grow and develop into new tumors. This travel and spread is called metastasis, in other words. The type of cancer cell where cancer first started — called primary cancer — determines the nature of the skin cancer.
For example, if malignant melanoma metastasized to your lungs, the cancer would still be called malignant melanoma. This is how superficial skin cancer can turn into life-threatening cancer. Most moles aren’t cancerous. Some moles are present at birth. Others develop up to about age 40. Most adults have between 10 and 40 moles. In rare cases, a mole can turn into Melanoma.
Skin Cancer is a disease that involves the growth of abnormal cells in your skin tissues. Usually, as skin cells grow old and die, new cells form to replace them. When this process doesn’t work as it should — like after exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun — cells grow more quickly. These cells may be noncancerous (benign), which don’t spread or cause harm. Or they may be cancerous.
The two leading causes of skin cancer are the sun’s harmful Ultraviolet (UV) rays and the use of UV tanning beds. If skin cancer is caught early, your dermatologist can treat it with little or no scarring and high odds of eliminating it. Often, the doctor may even detect the growth at a precancerous stage before it has become a full-blown skin cancer or penetrated below the skin’s surface.
Resource Reference: How To Keep Your Face Skin Refreshed In 5 Most Amazing Ways
Of all the primary skin cancer types, Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It’s often called “the most serious skin cancer” because it spreads rapidly. It frequently develops into a mole or suddenly becomes a new dark spot on the skin. In addition, it can also develop within a mole you already have on your skin or appear suddenly as a dark spot that looks different from the rest.
As mentioned, sunburn is red, painful, damaged skin from being in the sun for too long. When you get a sunburn, Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun (or a tanning bed!) burn your skin. You don’t have to spend the day at the beach or pool to get a sunburn. Some people get sunburns doing everyday things without sunscreen, like taking a lunch break outside, gardening, or walking the dog.