Skin cancer occurs when skin cells start growing abnormally, unpredictably, and uncontrollably.

Most skin cancers develop on the visible outer layer of the skin, particularly in sun-exposed areas like the head and neck, hands, arms, and legs. Of all the cancers that humans can get, skin cancer is by far the most common and it is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer by the age of 70[1]!  With training and close observation, they are usually able to be detected by a visual examination of the skin.  This is why the American Academy of Dermatology recommends an annual full body skin exam to be performed on all adults. This is especially important for patients with a personal history of extensive sun exposure and those who sunburn easily.

As with most things, prevention and early diagnosis are very important to not having skin cancers seriously affect your life.

Who Gets Skin Cancer?

People of all races, genders, and age can get skin cancer. Those who sunburn easily have a higher risk. Using indoor tanning devices such as tanning beds and sunlamps will greatly increase the risk of developing skin cancer as well as premature aging.

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

There are several different forms of skin cancer, and they all are a little bit different.  The most common types of skin cancer are divided into two main groups:

  • Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer – this group includes the Basal Cell Cancers and the Squamous Cell Cancers. While these cancers are different from each other, they do have fairly similar treatments and so they are grouped into the Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers (NMSC).  Fortunately, even though they are cancers, if caught early they are usually not life threatening and are usually treatable.
  • Melanoma Skin Cancer – melanomas can be very serious skin cancers and as such they are treated differently than the Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers listed above. If caught early, these cancers can easily be treated.  If not caught early, they can be life threatening.  It is estimated that over 9,000 people in the USA will die of melanoma in 2018.[2]

“It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer by the age of 70! Prevention and early diagnosis are very important to not having skin cancers seriously affect your life.”

One of the earliest signs of skin cancer is the appearance of Actinic Keratosis (AK).  If left untreated, each Actinic Keratosis has about a 10% chance of turning into a Squamous Cell Cancer over about 10 years. Once you start to develop lesions like Actinic Keratosis, it means that you have had enough damage from the sun or tanning beds that we need to watch you closely for the rest of your life. To put it another way, if you have had enough sun to cause Actinic Keratosis to form, you have had enough sun to cause cancers to form.

The most common form of skin cancer is Basal Cell Cancer (BCC).  There are over 4 million Basal Cell Cancers diagnosed in the USA every year.[3] Squamous Cell Cancers are the second most common form of skin cancer and can be more deadly than Basal Cell Cancers.  Both Basal Cell Cancers and Squamous Cell Cancers frequently appears as a bump that looks like a pimple.  However, instead of going away in a couple weeks like a pimple normally does, these cancers do not go away, get bigger with time, can bleed with minimal trauma, and will become more bothersome and concerning with time.  These cancers can invade the surrounding tissue and spread, or metastasize, to other organs.  Death and disfigurement are potential outcomes if not diagnosed and treated early and appropriately.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and typically develops in a mole or appears suddenly as a new dark spot on the skin.

Please click on the boxes below to learn more information on Basal Cell Cancers, Squamous Cell Cancers, Melanoma Skin Cancers, and how to prevent them all from occurring.

Basal Cell Cancers

(the most common skin cancer)

Squamous Cell Cancers

(the second most common skin cancer)

Malignant Melanoma

(the most dangerous skin cancer)

Prevention

Other Resources

Footnotes:

[1] Stern, RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol 2010; 146(3):279-282.

[2] Key Statistics in Melanoma for Melanoma Skin Cancer.  American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html.  Accessed December 8, 2018.

[3] Rogers HW, Weinstock MA, Feldman SR, Coldiron BM. Incidence estimate of nonmelanoma skin cancer (keratinocyte carcinomas) in the US population, 2012. JAMA Dermatol 2015; 151(10):1081-1086