Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. They usually form on the head, face, neck, hands, and arms. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, is more dangerous but less common.
Anyone can get skin cancer, but it is more common in people who
- Spend a lot of time in the sun or have been sunburned
- Have light-colored skin, hair and eyes
- Have a family member with skin cancer
- Are over age 50
You should have your doctor check any suspicious skin markings and any changes in the way your skin looks. Treatment is more likely to work well when cancer is found early. If not treated, some types of skin cancer cells can spread to other tissues and organs. Treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy (PDT), and biologic therapy. PDT uses a drug and a type of laser light to kill cancer cells. Biologic therapy boosts your body's own ability to fight cancer.
Most Serious Type of Skin Cancer is Melanoma
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole. Most melanomas have a black or black-blue area. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or "ugly looking."
The development of melanoma is related to sun exposure, particularly to sunburns during childhood. It is most common among people with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair.
Thinking of "ABCDE" can help you remember what to watch for:
- Asymmetry - the shape of one half does not match the other
- Border - the edges are ragged, blurred or irregular
- Color - the color is uneven and may include shades of black, brown and tan
- Diameter - there is a change in size, usually an increase
- Evolving - the mole has changed over the past few weeks or months
Surgery is the first treatment of all stages of melanoma. Other treatments include chemotherapy and radiation, biologic, and targeted therapies. Biologic therapy boosts your body's own ability to fight cancer. Targeted therapy uses substances that attack cancer cells without harming normal cells.
Skin Cancer Rates are Increasing
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Although less common, melanoma is the most aggressive and dangerous.
In the United States, skin cancer rates are rising. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2014, there will be:
- 76,100 new cases of melanoma and 9,710 deaths.
- 2 million new cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer, with fewer than 1,000 deaths.
Cancer begins in the cells. When normal cells grow old or damaged, they usually die, and new cells replace them. With cancer, new cells grow when they’re not needed, and old or damaged cells don’t die when they should—forming a mass of tissue (a growth or tumor). Skin cancer can invade normal tissue and spread throughout the body.
Treatments to remove or destroy the disease completely depend on the type and stage of cancer.