Can You Identify the 3 Main Forms of Skin Cancer?

You’ve probably heard a lot about skin cancer recently.  May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and as one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer, particular among young people, education and awareness is at an all-time high.  Previously, we’ve reviewed the ABCDEs that are used to identify potential melanomas.  And while melanoma is by far the most serious, it is also the least common.  Here, we will discuss the identifiable signs of the three main forms of skin cancer, including a review of melanoma, because the ability to spot each is an important component in treatment and overall health.

Identifying Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer and affects over 2 million people each year.  Typically, they will appear in the areas of your body that regularly receive the most sun exposure.  This includes the nose, ears, and cheeks.  In order to identify a potential BCC, be on the lookout for the following:

·        An open sore that frequently bleeds and never completely heals

·        A red, irritated patch of skin that may itch

·        A translucent bump with a pearl-like appearance

·        A pink growth with raised edges and an indented center

Identifying Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Following BCCs, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer, accounting for roughly 20 percent of all new cases.  Often, SCCs develop out of pre-cancerous lesions known as actinic keratoses (AKs).  In fact, this is the case anywhere from 40 – 60 percent of the time.  However, spotting and removing an AK early can prevent the cancer from developing entirely.  Here’s what to look for:

·        A persistent scaly patch that may crust or bleed

·        An elevated lesion with an indented center that may bleed

·        An open, bleeding and crusting sore that lasts for weeks

·        A growth similar to a wart in appearance that may crust and bleed

Identifying Melanoma

By far the most dangerous form on skin cancer, melanoma may account for less than 1 percent of all cases, but it is responsible for the majority of skin cancer-related deaths.  Catching this one early is critical to prevent spreading and complications.  As we’ve covered before, melanomas often exhibit the following characteristics:

·        Assymetry

·        Border (jagged edges)

·        Color (multiple colors in one lesion)

·        Diameter (larger than a pencil’s eraser)

·        Evolving

If you see a lesion on your body that fits any of the above characteristics, the best course of action is to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist for further investigation.  If skin cancer is suspected, a biopsy can be performed and a treatment plan mapped out.  The earlier action is taken, the better your results will be.

Chad Prather, M.D.