Skin cancer is a condition that typically develops as a result of sun exposure. The two types of skin cancer are keratinocyte carcinoma and melanoma.
Keratinocyte carcinoma includes basal and squamous cell skin cancers. These types of skin cancer are the most common and usually develop on parts of the body that receive direct sunlight, such as the head and neck. These cancers are not likely to spread, but may if left untreated.
Melanoma is a cancer that develops from cells that give your skin color, also called melanocytes. When melanocytes form benign moles they may become cancerous. Most melanomas may be cured if they are detected and treated early. Melanoma that is left untreated may spread to other parts of the body.
In men, benign moles typically form on the chest and back. In women, benign moles are more likely to form on the legs.
Signs of skin cancer include:
- Skin lesions that may look like an unusual growth, bump, sore, scaly patch or dark spot that doesn’t go away
- Ragged or uneven border
- Unusual color, such as white, pink, black, blue or red
- Large spot that is about the size of a pencil eraser
- Mole that changes size, shape or color
Basal skin cancer and squamous cancer may be caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds. Squamous skin cancer may also be caused by long-term exposure to cancer-causing chemicals and human papillomavirus (HPV). This type of cancer may also develop within a burn scar or ulcer.
Melanomas, on the other hand, may develop in parts of the body that aren’t typically exposed to sunlight.
Diagnosing Skin Cancer
Individuals who notice suspicious spots or growths on their skin, or changes in existing spots or growths should schedule an appointment with their physician. During the initial visit, the doctor will examine the skin and refer the patient to a specialist for diagnosis.
A biopsy may be performed to remove the suspicious area or portion of the skin for testing. If skin cancer is detected, then the physician will determine which stage the cancer is in.
Skin cancer may be treated by one or more of the following treatments:
- Biological therapy — the patient’s immune system is stimulated using biological treatments to fight the cancerous cells
- Cryotherapy — liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and destroy the cancerous tissue
- Excisional surgery — the cancerous growth and some healthy skin surrounding it are cut out
- Mohs surgery — the cancerous growth is removed one layer at a time and each layer is examined under a microscope until no abnormal cells are detected
- Curettage and electrodessication — the cancer cells are scraped away using a spoon-shaped blade and the remaining cancerous cells are burned using an electric needle
- Chemotherapy — the patient receives drugs orally, as an injection or through a topical application
- Photodynamic therapy — cancerous cells are destroyed using light and drugs
- Radiation — cancerous cells are killed using high-powered energy beams
- Immunotherapy — cream is applied to the skin to stimulate the immune system