Did you know that if you have light-colored skin, blue or green eyes, and blonde or red hair you are more susceptible to skin cancer just because of your looks? There are three major kinds of skin cancer: Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. These three skin cancers have their own different traits, characteristics, and severity but they are all caused by the exact same thing; UV rays.
Basal cell carcinoma is the least threatening of these three cancers. “It is the most common form of cancer in the United States. According to the American Cancer Socitey, 75% of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas” (Skin Cancer Foundation). Basal cell starts in the epidermis and grows slowly and painlessly. Basal cell carcinoma appears on the skin that sees the most sun, for example the scalp, face, ears, back, and hands. Basal cell can appear as a red spot, a shinny bump in the skin, or even an open sore that seems to take weeks to heal. ”Basal cell skin cancer used to be more common in people over age 40, but is now often diagnosed in younger people”(Skin Cancer Foundation). Even if basal cell carcinoma is the least threatening, it is still scary to have any form of cancer and it should be taken care of immediately.
“More than 700,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed every year. That makes it the second most common skin cancer”(Skin Cancer Foundation). Squamous cell can appear like basal cell with red scaly patches or sores that take weeks to heal. People who spend their days outside, either for work or for play, need to use better protection because these activities are what cause most cases of squamous cell carcinoma. “Squamous cell carcinomas are at least twice as frequent in men as in women. They rarely appear before age 50 and are most often seen in individuals in their 70’s”(Skin Cancer Foundation). People working outside in construction, landscaping, and road work are more at risk than someone that takes leisurely walks everynight. Being aware and protecting yourself from UV rays is the first step to protecting yourself from cancer in the future.
Squamous cell is not the most dangerous skin cancer but it is more harmful than basal cell and can be very difficult to remove because it spreads so easily. It not only spreads but it very rarely is completely gone. Even after having surgery to remove the cancer, in most cases, the cancer will grow back in a few years because there is unreversable damage to the skin.
The most dangerous skin cancer is Melanoma. Melanoma can appear in pre-existing moles. It can also spread very easily throughout the body. The most common places to find melanoma are the trunk, legs, and arms, mainly on elderly people, as well as the scalp in men. There are 4 basic types of melanomas. “Three of them occupy only the top layers of the skin and may become invasive; the fourth is invasive from the start”(Skin Cancer Foundation).
“Superficial spreading melanoma is by far the most common type, accounting for about 70% of all cases. This is the one most often seen in young people”(Skin Cancer Foundation). This cancer is usually seen in previously benign moles, and can appear most any place on the body. Lentigo maligna also remains close to the surface of the skin, and is mostly found in elderly people. Acral lentiginous melanoma usually appears as a black or brown discoloration under the nails, on the soles of the feet, or palms of the hands. Acral is different from the two previous kinds as far as location goes, but it is the same in characterisitcs because it spreads on the surface before penetrating deeper into the skin. The last type of melanoma is Nodular, which starts out invasive and is the most aggressive of the melanomas. “Nodular melanoma is found in 10 to 15% of melanoma cases”(Skin Cancer Foundation).
The first steps to recognizing melanoma are the ABCDE’s of melanoma. Asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving are the four things you need to take into consideration when examining your body and the moles that you have. If you ever spot a mole that looks suspicious, it never hurts to hava a doctor look at it just to make sure it is benign.
Skin cancer is a very serious and common thing that everyone needs to be aware of. Frequent doctor visits, sunscreen application, and staying away from the sun during mid-day are things that every person should do to help prevent and treat skin cancer. There are many different surgeries available for skin cancer removal, but staying out of the sun and preventing skin cancer is an easier alternative.
*Skin Cancer Foundation
Written by Mary Harkness – Master Student 01/16/2011