Skin cancer is becoming more and more prevalent in recent years. It is important to know what to look for and the facts to protect ourselves from these conditions and to know when to seek the advice of a board-certified dermatologist.
There are many forms of skin cancer, but there are three that are more common and essential to know.
Basal Cell Carcinoma – this skin cancer is the most common skin cancer and is becoming increasingly common with over two million cases a year in the United States. It typically occurs as a small pink shiny bump on the skin that does not heal, grows, and occasionally bleeds. However, while this is the most common presentation it can also be seen in many other ways. One of which is as a pigmented bump particularly in patients with darker skin types. This skin cancer rarely spreads to internal organs but does cause localized damage and destruction of tissue. For this reason, these skin cancers need to be treated and removed to prevent complications.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma – this is the second most common type of skin cancer and is most commonly found in patients with the most extensive sun exposure history. These present as scaly red patches and bumps. These skin cancers are more aggressive and have a higher risk of spreading to lymph nodes and internal organs than basal cell carcinomas. However, if treated quickly this is rarely an issue. About 1 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the US each year.
- Melanoma – Melanoma is much rarer than basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma but also far more aggressive. They account for fewer than 1% of skin cancers but most of the fatalities. Melanoma typically presents as a new or changing mole. Some concerning features are asymmetrical shape, variation in colour or concerning colours such as black, red, or white, size greater than a pencil eraser (though small lesions can be a problem as well), or any symptoms or changes. It is important to see your dermatologist with any new or changing moles as melanoma can commonly spread to internal organs if diagnosed late. It is important to diagnose melanoma early as they can be treated in early stages as melanoma in situ (typically treated with surgical excision) up to stage 4 metastatic melanoma possibly requiring chemotherapy or other more aggressive therapies. There is significant research in the field of melanoma and continual advances but even so, aggressive melanoma is very difficult to treat and it is very important to have regular skin checks to try to catch these skin cancers before they become more aggressive.
Prevention is key for all skin cancers and this includes sunscreen and sun avoidance during peak hours from 10AM-4PM. This is critical as there are more harmful UV rays during these hours. Also, it is important to have regular skin checks with a dermatologist to identify any concerning lesions.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a skin cancer screening we are happy to help here.