Skin Cancer FAQs
Skin Cancer Types
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring of all cancers. Eight out of every 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, making this form of skin cancer far and away the most common.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. It forms in the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layer of the skin. Most squamous cell carcinomas result from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds or lamps.
Melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer that can spread at any time to form malignant tumors in other parts of the body. 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.
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 with 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.
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
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.
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
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