Skin Cancer FAQs
What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma Skin Cancer?
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring of all cancers. Basal cell carcinomas typically begin as shiny or pearly lesions which can develop into open sores, bumps or pink patches on the skin. Often the first detected symptom of a basal cell carcinoma is a bleeding spot without a preceding cause. It is extremely rare to see regional spread or metastasis to other locations in the body. However, if left untreated, the lesion will expand and destroy more tissue locally where it is found.
What is Actinic Keratosis, and what does it look like?
Otherwise known as a “precancer,” an actinic keratosis is usually a scaly spot that is found on sun damaged skin. Actinic keratoses are usually non-tender, may be pink or red and rough, resembling sandpaper. They occur most frequently on the face, scalp, neck and forearms. Actinic keratoses are considered precursors to squamous cell carcinoma, although most do not progress past the precancer stage.
What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. This cancer tends to occur on sun damaged skin and mucous membranes. Squamous cell carcinomas appear as red scaly patches, scaly bumps, or open sores which can be tender and bleed easily. With time they may become larger and destroy tissue on the skin and may spread to other parts of the body. The precursor to this skin cancer is an actinic keratoses.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is one of the most dangerous form of skin cancer that can spread at any time to form malignant tumors in other parts of the body. Most melanomas are black or brown lesions however, some can be skin colored, pink, blue or white. Melanoma may be caused by ultraviolet damage or may be due to genetic factors in some individuals. Possible warning signs for melanoma are known as the ABCDEF’s and are: asymmetry, irregular border, color differences, diameter wider than a pencil eraser (6 mm), and evolution or changes in the mole, and family history. It is important to do self exams and become familiar with the moles on your body. If any changes are noted, it is important to have the lesions looked at by a dermatologist.
What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer which has a high risk of recurring and spreading to other parts of the body. Risk factors are sun damaged skin in fair-skinned people over 50 years old, but it can occur in people of darker skin tones. These tumors tend to grow rapidly and can be reddish, purple, or skin colored. As with melanoma, early detection is important for survival.
What is Atypical Fibroxanthoma?
An atypical fibroxanthoma is a skin tumor that most commonly occurs on the head and neck of elderly people with sun damaged skin or in people who have received radiation therapy. The lesion can be pink, skin colored, or reddish with or without crusting. These can behave rather indolently or they can be aggressive and spread through the local tissue.
What is Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans?
Dermatofibroma sarcoma protuberans is a rare tumor that arises from cells in the dermis and has an unknown cause. It usually presents as a painless, thickened bump in the skin which grows slowly over time. They are red and brown in color and tend to recur after surgical excision unless the margins are definitively cleared. These tumors can have a very extensive deep component and require large margins to clear adequately.
What Are Some Skin Cancer Prevention Strategies?
Taking sun protective measures is the best way to prevent sun damage and the possibility of skin cancers in the future. We recommend:
- Wearing at least an SPF 30 sunblock daily, however even higher numbers of SPF are ideal
- Reapplying sunblock every 2 hours if in the sun, swimming, or exercising
- Seeking shade during the peak hours of 10 am to 4 pm
- Avoiding intentional tanning and tanning beds
- Using sunblock with the ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide
- Having your skin examined at least once a year by a dermatologist.
*information was supplemented by the Skin Cancer Foundation at skincancer.org and Dermnet New Zealand.