Types of Skin Cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. But at Columbia St. Mary’s, our approach to skin cancer care and treatment is anything but common.

Learn about the different types of skin cancer:

  • Melanoma
    While melanoma is one of the least common forms of skin cancer, it is by far the deadliest. According to the American Cancer Society, each year there are upwards of 60,000 new cases of melanoma and 8,000 deaths in the United States.A picture of a dermatologist looking at a suspicious mole on a man's arm.

    Melanoma occurs when the cells that give skin its pigment — melanocytes — begin to uncontrollably grow and reproduce. This can occur in areas of heavy pigmentation — such as a mole — or normal pigmentation.

    What makes melanoma so dangerous is how aggressively it spreads. If caught early, it's treatable. But once it advances and spreads to other parts of the body—  such as the bones or brain ñ treatment becomes very difficult. Melanoma has a 98 percent survival rate if found and treated before it spreads. The survival rate drops to 62 percent if the cancer has spread to nearby tissue. Once it reaches other organs or the bones, the survival rate is just 15 percent.

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma
    Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and unlike melanoma, it tends to grow slowly and not spread to other parts of the body. This makes it much more treatable with surgery, radiation, pills or topical creams.

    Like all skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma often first appears on parts of the body that receive the most exposure to sunlight — face, back, chest, shoulders or neck. It'll look like a small, shiny bump that's smooth and firm to the touch. Sometimes it will be tender and bleed easily.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma
    The second most common form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma is most often seen on parts of the body that have had extensive exposure to the sun as well as areas that have been burned by either chemicals or radiation. Unlike basal cell, squamous cell does grow rapidly and  can spread to nearby lymph nodes if left untreated, however this is rare.  

    Squamous cell carcinoma typically presents as a firm, red bump or a patch of flaky skin that bleeds. In the majority of cases, squamous cell is very treatable with surgery, radiation therapy or topical chemotherapy.

  • Actinic Keratosis
    Actinic keratosis is a noncancerous skin condition that greatly increases one's risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma. Most common in those with fair skin and light hair, actinic keratosis presents as small, reddish-brown patches surrounded by red, irritated skin that develop on skin thatís been exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, hands and forearms. These patches will often be itchy or burn and have a rough texture. If left untreated, one percent turn into skin cancer over time.

    If you notice anything that fits that description, see a doctor so that it can be treated before it becomes cancerous. If a doctor does diagnosis you with actinic keratosis, there are many treatment options available to remove the growth, including cryosurgery (treatment with liquid nitrogen), electrosurgery (electricity), shave excision (a surgical blade), photodynamic therapy (light), a chemical peel, laser resurfacing and topical medications.

If you have a mole or skin growth that concerns you, the "ABCDE" system is a handy guide to help determine if itís cause for concern:

Asymmetry: One half doesn't match the other half.
Border irregularity: The edges are uneven, ragged or blurred.
Color: The color is not uniform throughout or there are many colors within the same growth or spot.
Diameter: The mole is larger than 1/4 inch (6mm; about the size of a pencil eraser).
Evolution: There is a change in the size, shape, symptoms (such as itching, tenderness or bleeding), or color.

 

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