Have you ever known someone who suffered from skin cancer in Utah?
Has the thought of skin cancer ever crossed your mind?
We want to provide education about the basics of skin cancer so you can feel more safe.
Skin cancer occurs when skin cells start growing abnormally, causing cancerous growths.
Most skin cancers develop on the visible outer layer of the skin (the epidermis), particularly in sun-exposed areas (face, head, hands, arms, and legs). They are usually easy to detect by examining the skin, which increases the chances of early treatment and survival.
3 Different types of skin cancer
There are three different types of skin cancer, each named for the type of skin cell from which they originate. The majority of skin cancers fall into one of the following categories:
1. Basal cell carcinoma (also called BCC). This type of skin cancer comes from the basal cells in lowest part of the epidermis. 80-85% of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas.
Basal cell carcinoma starts in the top layer of the skin called the epidermis. It grows slowly and is painless. A new skin growth that bleeds easily or does not heal well may suggest basal cell carcinoma. The majority of these cancers occur on areas of skin that are regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. They may also appear on the scalp. Basal cell skin cancer used to be more common in people over age 40, but is now often diagnosed in younger people.
Your risk for basal cell skin cancer is higher if you have:
- Light-colored skin
- Blue or green eyes
- Blond or red hair
- Overexposure to x-rays or other forms of radiation
Basal cell skin cancer almost never spreads. But, if left untreated, it may grow into surrounding areas and nearby tissues and bone.
2. Squamous cell carcinoma (also called SCC). Squamous cell carcinoma comes from the skin cells (keratinocytes) that make up the top layers of the skin. About 10% of skin cancers are SCC.
Squamous cell cancer occurs when cells in the skin start to change. The changes may begin in normal skin or in skin that has been injured or inflamed. Most skin cancers occur on skin that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. Skin cancer is most often seen in people over age 50.
Squamous cell carcinoma in situ (also called Bowen’s disease) is the earliest form of squamous cell cancer. The cancer has not yet invaded surrounding tissue. It appears as large reddish patches (often larger than 1 inch) that are scaly and crusted.
Actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin lesion. In rare cases it may become a squamous cell cancer.
Risks for squamous cell skin cancer include:
- Having light-colored skin, blue or green eyes, or blond or red hair
- Long-term, daily sun exposure (such as in people who work outside)
- Many severe sunburns early in life
- Older age
- A large number of x-rays
- Chemical exposure
Squamous cell cancer spreads faster than basal cell cancer, but still may be relatively slow-growing. Rarely, it can spread (metastasize) to other locations, including internal organs.
3. Melanoma. Melanoma comes from skin cells called melanocytes, which create pigment called melanin that gives skin its color. 5% of all skin cancers are melanoma.
Although less common, melanomas are a very dangerous type of skin cancer and are the leading cause of death from skin disease.
Melanoma can appear on normal skin, or it may begin as a mole or other area that has changed in appearance. Some moles that are present at birth may develop into melanomas.
There are four major types of melanoma:
- Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma. It is usually flat and irregular in shape and color, with different shades of black and brown. It may occur at any age or body site, and is most common in Caucasians.
- Nodular melanoma usually starts as a raised area that is dark blackish-blue or bluish-red. However, some do not have any color.
- Lentigo maligna melanoma usually occurs in the elderly. It is most common in sun-damaged skin on the face, neck, and arms. The abnormal skin areas are usually large, flat, and tan with areas of brown.
- Acral lentiginous melanoma is the least common form of melanoma. It usually occurs on the palms, soles, or under the nails and is more common in African Americans.
Rarely, melanomas appear in the mouth, iris of the eye, or retina at the back of the eye. They may be found during dental or eye examinations. Although very rare, melanoma can also develop in the vagina, esophagus, anus, urinary tract, and small intestine.
Melanoma can spread very rapidly. Although it is less common than other types of skin cancer, the rate of melanoma is steadily increasing. It is the leading cause of death from skin disease.
The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, the disease also frequently affects young, otherwise healthy people.
The development of melanoma is related to sun exposure or ultraviolet radiation, particularly among people with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair.
Risks for melanoma include the following:
- Living in sunny climates or at high altitudes
- Long-term exposure to high levels of strong sunlight, because of a job or other activities
- One or more blistering sunburns during childhood
- Use of tanning devices
We hope this information about the basics of skin cancer has been helpful and that you will consult with your Utah dermatology clinic if you have any concerns.