Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. It occurs when skin cells grow out of control, usually on the outer layer of skin that is exposed to sunlight. But, skin cancer can also be found in areas of your body that are not exposed to the sun.
There are different types of skin cancer based on where cancer begins. Your treatment will depend on the kind of skin cancer you have, as well as the size, severity, and location of cancer. When caught early, skin cancer can usually be treated, which is why regular screening is important.
Learn more about the different skin cancer types below:
Basal Cell Carcinoma
What it is: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer that occurs on the top layer of skin called the epidermis. Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly and rarely spreads. However, once you have it, you are more likely to get it again in the same location or somewhere else on the body. Basal cell carcinoma is typically treated by a dermatologist and may require surgery.
What it looks like: Basal cell cancer is usually found on parts of the body that are exposed to the sun, like the head, face, and neck. While all basal cell carcinomas may look different, the following warning signs may indicate a cancerous tumor:
- A recurring open sore that bleeds or oozes
- A pink or red growth that appears waxy
- A flat lesion that is flesh-colored or brown
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
What it is: Squamous cell carcinoma commonly occurs on parts of the body regularly exposed to the sun, such as your ears, face, or hands. The risk of squamous cell carcinoma increases if you:
- Work outside and are frequently exposed to the sun
- Are aging
- Experienced severe sunburns when you were young
- Were exposed to chemicals
Squamous cell carcinoma treatment usually involves surgery.
What it looks like: Squamous cell carcinoma usually looks like a hard, red bump or a scaly patch of skin that is larger than one inch. A sore that heals and returns can also be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma.
What it is: Melanoma is a dangerous form of skin cancer, often triggered by sun exposure that leads to severe sunburn. Melanoma develops from the skin cells that give skin its color, called melanin pigment. Melanoma tends to be more aggressive than the other types of skin cancer and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma is diagnosed using a biopsy that requires a surgical incision. Many times, a surgical oncologist will also conduct a lymph node evaluation to see if melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
What it looks like: Melanoma can grow from an existing mole or suddenly appear as a new spot on otherwise healthy skin. Fair-skinned people are the most likely to develop melanoma, but melanoma can be found in people of all skin tones including black and brown. It’s important to see a doctor if you notice any of the following characteristics on a mole:
- Asymmetry - Different shape on one side compared to the other
- Borders - Uneven edges
- Color - Black or different shades of light or dark brown
- Diameter - Growing in size or a spot larger than the size of a pencil eraser
- Evolving - Change to size or color
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
What it is: Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare form of skin cancer, but it can return and spread aggressively once you get it. Unlike other types of skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma can develop in people with diseases that affect the immune system, such as HIV.
What it looks like: Merkel cell carcinoma may appear as a shiny bump or lesion on or below the skin. It doesn’t hurt but it grows quickly and can be skin-colored, red, purple, or bluish-red. It may look similar to less-serious health conditions, such as an infected hair follicle.
Early diagnosis is important because that’s when Merkel cell carcinoma is most treatable. Talk to your doctor if you notice an unusual change to your skin, even if you don’t think it looks concerning.
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