Skin Cancer Types
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and is caused from ultraviolet radiation. It typically occurs on sun-exposed areas: head and neck, chest, back and upper extremities. It often begins as a red or pearly bump; tiny blood vessels are often seen on top of the lesion. Basal cell carcinomas often bleed and look like sores that will not heal. Most BCC's are treated with surgical excision in the office but occasionally superficial BCCs can be treated with creams.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell Carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. It usually occurs on the head and neck but is also often seen on the back of the hands, forearms, and on the lower legs (especially in older women). SCC is also caused by the sun but is the most common skin cancer seen in patients who a lowered immunity (most commonly from immunosuppressive medications). It presents as a red bump that usually is crusted and looks like it has a scab that won’t heal. Sometimes it has a hard horny cap and can look like a wart.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer but can be totally cured if discovered at an early stage. The earliest stage of melanoma is called melanoma in-situ. If melanoma is caught in this early stage, it is 100% curable with surgical excision. Deeper, later stage melanomas may be life threatening. It can occur on ANY part of the body (even on the bottom of the feet!) but most melanomas are found on the head and neck, chest, back, and upper extremities. Melanoma is usually pigmented (brown or black) but in rare cases is not pigmented (amelanotic melanoma). Be suspicious of any pigment lesion that grows quickly or develops new dark pigment within a previously existing mole.
The incidence of melanoma has been steadily increasing over the past 30 years. It is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common for of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old. It is increasing faster in females 15-29 years old than males in the same age group with the torso being the most common location which may be due to high-risk tanning behaviors. It is estimated in 2010 that 1 in 59 people will develop a melanoma in the USA. It is estimated that this will increase to 1 in 50 by 2015. Ultraviolet radiation plays an important role in the development of melanoma but family history of melanoma in a first degree relative also plays a very important role.