Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States. According to SkinCancer.org, about 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
How Skin Cancer Develops
Skin cancer develops when the cells in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, grow out of control. This abnormal, out of control growth is triggered by unrepaired DNA damage.
The two main causes of skin cancer are the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and the use of UV tanning machines.
The Different Types of Skin Cancer
There are different types of skin cancer.
The main ones are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
BCC is a type of skin cancer that originates from the skin’s basal cells in the outermost layer of the skin. It is usually found in areas that are typically exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, face, ears, neck, shoulders, and back.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCC develops in the squamous cells of the skin’s outermost layer. Like BCC, it can be found in areas that are typically exposed to the sun, including areas that reveal signs of sun damage.
Melanoma develops from melanocytes, the skin cells responsible for producing the pigment melanin. It’s the same pigment that gives the skin its color.
Melanomas usually resemble a mole and most of the time, arise from them. Unlike BCC and SCC, melanoma can be found in areas that are not constantly exposed to the sun such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and fingernail/toenail beds.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC)
MCC is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer. They are painless, flat lesions found in sun-exposed areas such as head, neck, and eyelids.
The Signs and Symptoms
It’s important to note that while skin cancer usually develops in areas exposed to the sun, it can also develop in places that rarely get sun exposure (e.g. palms, genital area, under the fingernail or toenail).
The signs and symptoms of skin cancer vary, depending on the type.
For non-melanoma skin cancer (BCC, SCC, MCC), skin cancer may first appear as a nodule or an irregular patch on the surface of the skin. It may ooze or bleed easily.
As it progresses, its size and shape may change. By this time, it may have grown into deeper layers of the skin.
Melanomas, on the other hand, may start as a new spot on the skin. This spot would look different from all of the other spots on your skin because of its changing size, shape, and color.
Getting Screened for Skin Cancer
A screening test for skin cancer can help catch the disease at an earlier stage, which would help in earlier treatment and better treatment outcome.
During a skin exam, a doctor or nurse will check on your skin for unusual moles, nodules, or marks. If an area looks abnormal, a biopsy is done to determine if it’s malignant.
Treating and Preventing Skin Cancer
Skin cancer treatment varies greatly on the type, skin cancer stage, and one’s overall health and preference.
In many cases, it involves surgery and sometimes, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
When it comes to prevention, one of the simplest things to prevent skin cancer is to protect the skin from the harmful UV rays. This can be done by:
- using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 when heading out
- seeking shade when it’s too hot outside, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM
- avoid using tanning beds
- examining your skin from head-to-toe every month
The physicians of Premier Surgical Associates of Knoxville and Cleveland, TN, perform procedures to remove and treat large and small skin cancers. If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, ask your dermatologist about a referral to one of our experienced surgeons. To learn more, visit our Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers page at https://www.premiersurgical.com/melanoma-and-other-skin-cancers/