Fighting Back Against the Most Common Type of Cancer: Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. The type of skin cancer someone has can impact both their prognosis and treatment options. There are three main types:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer. It develops in the basal cells, found in the deepest part of the outer skin layer.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) accounts for 1.8 million skin cancer cases each year. It is caused by the overproduction of squamous cells in the top layer of the skin.
  • Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer but is the deadliest form of the disease. It starts with changes in melanocytes, which are skin cells that produce the pigment called melanin. As these cells grow out of control, they form cancerous tumors.

Most skin cancers are caused by long- and short-term exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and artificial sources, like tanning beds. Cancer often develops long after UV rays cause damage to the DNA in skin cells. Limiting sun exposure and using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher can help prevent skin cancer.

Some people are at higher risk for developing skin cancer, including those who:

  • Have light-colored eyes, fair or freckled skin, and blonde or red hair.
  • Tan or use tanning beds.
  • Spend a lot of time working or playing in the sun.
  • Have a family history of skin cancer.
  • Have many moles.
  • Sunburn easily.

While we should all monitor our skin for changes and unusual moles or growths, people at high risk should be especially vigilant and may want to schedule an annual skin check with a dermatologist to monitor changes. You should tell your doctor about any changes to your skin, new growth, or sores that do not heal. These could be signs of either melanoma or basal or squamous cell carcinoma.

When it comes to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, you will want to monitor any moles you have. You may use the ABCDEs of skin cancer:

  • Asymmetry – Does each half of the mole match the other in shape and size?
  • Border – Is the mole irregular, ragged or has notched edges? Normal moles are round or oval-shaped.
  • Color – Is the color of the mole uneven? Does it have shades of brown or black, or does it have pink, red, white, or blue patches?
  • Diameter – Is the mole larger than six millimeters across?
  • Evolving – Has the mole changed in size, shape or color? Does it look different from the others?

If your doctor finds something suspicious, they will most likely refer you to a dermatologist who can perform a biopsy to determine if it is cancerous. As is the case with most types of cancer, catching skin cancer early increases the odds of survival. Treatment can include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of these. 

Click here to find a dermatologist near you at a Karmanos Cancer Institute or McLaren Health Care location. If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer and would like to have a second opinion at a location near you, call 1-800-KARMANOS or request an appointment here.