It is important to be able to identify skin cancer, and its different types, because skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. The American Medical Association Guide to Prevention and Wellness reports that approximately 1 million Americans develop skin cancer each year, and the incidence of skin cancer is increasing.
It is common knowledge that skin cancer is most often caused by exposure to UV light, most often overexposure to the sun. Because UV exposure causes skin cancer it is most often found on skin that is frequently exposed to sunlight, such as the face, scalp, lips, neck, chest, arms, and hands. It is possible, however, for cancer to skin that is not normally exposed.
The importance of identifying skin cancer.
Many people are not even aware that there are different types of skin cancer. It is important to know the different types of skin cancer and know how to identify them. This will enable patients to seek medical treatment early. Early detection and treatment makes successful treatment even the most aggressive forms of skin cancer easier.
Some cancerous skin cells appear and grow quickly, while others grow slowly over time. This is another reason it is important to be able to identify the different types of skin cancer and know the risks associated with them.
Most common types of skin cancer.
There are actually three common types of skin cancer, as classified by the Mayo Clinic. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and Squamous cell carcinoma are also common types of skin cancers. Kaposi Sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma and Sebaceous gland carcinoma are less common types of skin cancer, but no less important.
Types of skin cancer – Melanoma
Melanoma, contrary to popular belief, is not the most common form of cancer. It is, according to Webmd.com, the most dangerous. Melanoma can spread rapidly on your skin and, in some cases, can spread to lymph nodes, organs, and bones. This is why it is so important that you be able to recognize melanoma.
How to identify Melanoma skin cancer.
Melanoma is most easily identified by the change in size or coloration of a mole or other skin growth. (Not all moles are related to melanoma.) Melanoma may start in a mole that you already have, but it usually starts in skin that has no distinguishing marks or characteristics.
Watch for Melanoma by looking for flat moles with uneven edges or asymmetrical regular moles. (See photo 1 for a picture of melanoma skin cancer.) Webmd.com says that one of the differences in a mole and melanoma is that melanoma is not symmetrical. Bleeding or irregularly shaped moles should be checked by a doctor.
The shape of melanoma skin cancer is usually irregular, it can be lumpy, round, or shiny and dome shaped in appearance. Melanoma is usually brownish and can occur with other small dark spots on your skin., but it can also have a red, blue, or white tent. This type of skin cancer can bleed or become crusty.
Melanoma is common on the head, neck and trunk of the body, although discolored lesions on the hands or feet may also indicate the appearance of Melanoma.
Types of skin cancer – Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common but least dangerous type of skin cancer, according to Harvard Medical School. This type of skin cancer is relatively easy to treat and less likely to metastasize (spread).
How to identify Basal cell carcinoma.
Check areas of skin that are exposed to sun for basal cell carcinoma. It usually begins as a pearly or waxy bump that easily bleeds. (See photo 2 for an example of basal cell carcinoma.) This is known as nodular basal cell carcinoma.
This does not mean that basal cell carcinoma should be ignored or overlooked.
Basal cell carcinoma most often appears on the head and neck, especially the face. This type of skin cancer often appears on those who have been heavy tanners.
Superficial basal cell carcinoma may appear flat, flesh colored, or reddish. It may cause an itchy spot on your skin.
Types of skin cancer – Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that of the million cases of skin cancer reported each year Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for 20%.
Both superficial basal cell and nodular basal cell carcinoma may become red, bleed, or become crusty.
Morpeaform basal cell carcinoma is far less common than other forms of basal cell carcinoma, but it is more dangerous. It is identified, says Harvard Medical School, by distinctive white or yellowish scar like appearance without easily defined boarders.
Sometimes dermatologists identify skin lesions as precancerous cells. These may develop into Squamous cell skin cancer.
How to identify Squamous cell carcinoma.
This type of cancer begins as rough, scaly brown patches on the skin, usually on the face, ears, lower arms and hands. (See photo 3 for an example of Squamous cell carcinoma).
Squamous cell carcinoma may also appear as a red crusty patch of skin or an ulcer that doesn’t heal.
Precancerous actinic keratoses should be checked by a dermatologists. These cells are small, rough feeling lesions that can develop into Squamous cell carcinoma.
Less common skin cancer and how to identify it- Kaposi Sarcoma
Kaposi Sarcoma is reported by the Mayo Clinic as being a rare form of cancer that develops in the blood vessels embedded in the skin. The presence of Kaposi Sarcoma usually causes red or purplish patches of skin or mucous membrane. This type of cancer is most common in people with compromised immune systems caused by autoimmune disease, autoimmune suppressant medication, or organ transplant patients.
Less common skin cancer and how to identify it – Merkel Cell carcinoma
Merkel Cell carcinoma is rare, but it grows and spreads quickly. It appears in the form of red, pink, or blue nodules that appear just beneath the skin or in hair follicles. The size of this type of skin cancer varies from ¼ inch to 2 inches. It usually occurs on head, neck, arms, and legs that have been exposed to the sun.
Less common skin cancer and how to identify it – Sebaceous gland carcinoma
Sebaceous gland carcinoma is fairly rare. It begins in oil glands and appears as a hard, painless node. Often sebaceous gland carcinoma develops on the eyelid. The biggest problem with this type of cancer is that it is often mistaken for a benign condition.
Not all skin discolorations or changes are cancerous, but changes should be checked by a dermatologist. Early detection and treatment is the best way to successfully treat skin cancer.
American Medical Association Complete Guide to Prevention and Wellness. Wiley, 2008
Basal Cell Carcinoma – Skin Cancer and the History of Tanning, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard.edu
Health: Skin Cancer, Mayo Clinic
Squamous Cell Carcinoma, American Academy of Dermatology, aad.org
What is Melanoma Skin Cancer, Webmd.com