Cancer develops when cell DNA becomes damaged and the damaged cells begin to grow and divide uncontrollably. As the damaged cells multiply, they form a tumor that is generally visible on the skin. There are three types of skin cancers which are named for the type of cell in which they begin.
Basal Cell Carcinoma: This is the most common type of skin cancer, representing about 80% of all skin cancers and affecting 1 million people every year in the US. BCCs develop in the basal cells, which are cells in the lowest layers of the skin. It can appear as a pearly nodule; a pink, elevated growth; a sore that continuously heals and re-opens; and a waxy scar.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma: SCCs represent about 16% of all skin cancers. They begin in the squamous cells, which are cells in the upper layer of the skin. These often appear as a crusty or scaly area of skin with an inflamed base. SCCs may arise from actinic keratoses, which are dry, scaly lesions that may be skin-colored, reddish-brown, or yellowish-black.
Melanoma: Melanomas represent about 4% of all diagnosed skin cancers. These lesions begin in the melanocytes, the cells which give skin its color. It is considered the most lethal form of skin cancer because of its ability to rapidly spread to other body systems. Melanoma generally develops in a pre-existing mole or may appear as a new mole. With early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for melanoma is about 95%.
Who Gets Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer develops in people of all colors; however, it is most likely to occur in those who have fair skin, light-colored eyes, blonde or red hair, a tendency to burn or freckle when exposed to the sun, and a history of sun exposure. In dark-skinned individuals, melanoma most often develops on non-sun-exposed areas (e.g. the feet, under nails, and on the mouth, nasal passages, or genitals).
Diagnosis & Treatment
Dermatologists detect skin cancer through a visual examination of the skin. If a cancerous lesion is suspected during a skin examination, a biopsy is often performed to confirm the diagnosis. This involves removing either part of or the entirety of the lesion and examining it microscopically. Once malignancy (cancer) is established, treatment options include excisional surgery, electrosurgery, cryosurgery, or Mohs Micrographic Surgery. These options are weighed by their anticipated success of removing the cancer, reducing the chances of recurrence, preserving healthy skin tissue, and minimize scarring.