Skin Cancer Basics
There are three types of skin cancer most frequently found in fair skinned individuals. These include basal cell carcinomas (the most common), squamous cell carcinomas and malignant melanoma (least common).
The sun is the leading cause of these skin cancers. The damage caused by chronic sun exposure and repeat sun burn as a child and adolescent persists long after the burn and tan have faded. Twenty to forty years later, after repeated small doses of sunshine, these cancers may sprout like weeds in a lawn.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer seen in practice. It is highly correlated with the amount of sun exposure and often begins as a tiny pearly pink bump . It is persistent, grows slowly and may eventually bleed and break down . It may also appear as a shiny scar like area. Men often complain of a bump that is repeatedly nicked while shaving. Fortunately these cancers are cured by destruction or removal.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is fairly common and also arises in areas repeatedly exposed to the sun (ears, face, neck, back of hands). They may arise as tender skin colored bumps or thick crusted areas that will not heal . Some may resemble and be misdiagnosed as dermatitis, eczema or “ring worm”. Squamous cell skin cancer is often curable by destruction or removal however in the latest stages they have the potential of invading the blood stream and metastasizing.
Malignant melanoma is being diagnosed more and more frequently. Rates are approaching 1 in 64 for Caucasians. This is an aggressive skin cancer that grows more quickly than either the basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma. It is classically described as a mole that begins to change shape, color and size or a new dark colored spot that suddenly appears. They may be flat or raised and can be a variety of shades of brown and/or pink. It is most important that these are removed as early as possible to ensure a cure.