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Skin Cancer: What to Look For?

What are the 3 main types of skin cancer, and when should you worry? House Call Doctor explains.

By
House Call Doctor
April 16, 2012

The summer is almost here, and so is the warm sun. But sun exposure carries with it the threat of skin cancer, the most common cancer there is. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 1 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer each year, and this number is growing. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that most of the skin cancer that will be diagnosed will not be life-threatening. There are 3 main types:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma - This is the most common type, representing 75% of all skin cancers. Basal cell cancers are skin-colored and raised, round and smooth. They most commonly occur on the face, especially on the nose.

  2. Squamous cell carcinoma - This is the next most common type, covering 20% of all skin cancers diagnosed. Squamous cell cancers are often preceded by a slightly raised, rough, and sometimes darker lesion known as an actinic keratosis. The cancers are not as smooth as basal cell cancers and are the most common skin cancer in dark-skinned people.

  3. Melanoma - This covers the remaining 5% of all skin cancers diagnosed.  Melanoma cancers are made up of the cells that produce the dark substance, melanin. These spots are usually brown or black, but can also be flesh-colored, red, pink and even blue, purple, or white at times.

That may seem like good news, as both basal and squamous cell cancers are rarely fatal and generally easy to treat. Unfortunately, that still leaves nearly 50,000 people each year getting one of the most deadly cancers out there: melanoma.

Melanoma is the most common cause of cancer death in young adults. Even worse: the number of cases of melanoma has tripled in Caucasian Americans.  But there’s one last bit of good news: if melanoma is caught early, it can usually be cured. That’s why this subject is so important to cover.

Pay attention! Learning to prevent or detect skin cancer early could definitely save your life. For more on detection and prevention, click here.

Magnifying Glass image courtesy of Shutterstock
 

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