Since I am talking about UV protection this month, we should also discuss how to recognize skin cancer. Most people have moles that are usually benign (harmless) brown spots on our skin that we barely notice. With time, we sometimes notice new moles or changes to existing ones. There are three types of skin cancer: 1) Basal cell Carcinoma, 2) Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and 3) Melanoma.
Types of Skin Cancer
- Basal Cell Carcinoma
- The most common form of skin cancer. Basal cells line the base of the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis.
- Appear like open sores, red patches, pink bumps, or shiny bumps. Often a result of cumulative occasional and intense sun exposure.
- Almost never metastasizes (spreads beyond the borders of the skin lesion).
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
- 2nd most common skin cancer. Squamous cells comprise the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis.
- Appear crusty, scaled, ulcerated, with an erythematous base. Often found in sun-exposed areas of the body. History of sunburn in childhood and frequent sun exposure increases risk of squamous cell cancer later in life.
- 2-3% chance of metastasis (spread to other organs or lymph nodes).
- Least common but most dangerous form of skin cancer.
- Develop when unrepared damage to skin cell DNA leads to mutations that tell the skin cells to divide rapidly and form malignant lesions. The initial DNA damage occurs from UV radiation exposure, i.e. the sun.
- Originate in the basal layer of the skin in the melanocytes. These are the cells that produce the pigment melanin.
- Appears asymmetric, have irregular borders, more than one color, diameter usually greater than a pencil eraser, and evolve over time.
When to See Your Doctor
If you have any lesion that appears similar to the pictures above, you should see your doctor. You also want to pay attention to any growing moles or moles that appear to change color.