Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. But skin cancer caught early has a greater chance of a cure. Taking time to talk to your physician and to educate yourself about your skin cancer will help you to make the best decisions for your overall health.
Types of skin cancer
Though there are several kinds of skin cancer, these are the three most common skin cancers found in the United States:
Basal Cell Carcinoma accounts for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers in the United States. It is slow growing and rarely spreads.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a cancer that rarely spreads, yet it does so more often than basal cell cancer.
These two non-melanoma skin cancers can develop on sun-exposed areas of your body, like your face, ears, neck, lips, or the back of your hands. When detected and treated early, non-melanomas have a cure rate of more than 95 percent. However, people with these types of cancer need be aware that they have a higher risk for developing other skin cancers.
Melanoma is a form of cancer that begins in the melanocytes cells, which make melanin, the pigment that determines our natural skin color. Melanoma is much more serious than basal and squamous cell carcinomas. It can spread quickly to other organs and causes 75 percent of skin cancer deaths in the United States.
Melanomas can develop from an existing mole or can arise in otherwise normal skin. Since the cells usually continue to make melanin, melanoma tumors are often brown or black. Common places for melanoma to occur are on men’s trunks and women’s lower legs, but they can occur elsewhere, such as in the eye (ocular or intraocular melanomas). Rarely, melanoma shows up in the meniges (the membrane that covers the brain and the spinal marrow), the digestive tract, lymph nodes, or other areas where melanocytes are found.
In the first stage, melanoma begins as “melanoma in situ,” meaning it doesn’t grow much beyond the epidermis. If it is not removed when it is thin, the melanoma can penetrate deeply into the dermis and may spread throughout the body.
Arizona, which gets 300 days a year of sunshine and blue skies, has the second-highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with Australia at number one. In the United States, malignant melanoma has increased more than 100 percent in the last 32 years.
Other Skin Cancer Types
- Merkel Cell Carcinoma
- Actinic Keratosis pre-cancer
- Kaposi’s sarcoma - Generally starts as a small bruise-like area, then develops into a tumor, often developed by people with AIDS.
- Mycosis fungoides - Usually begins as a rash on the buttocks, hips or lower abdomen. It can be missed because it looks similar to skin allergies and other types of irritation. A type of lymphoma, it starts on the skin.
- Adnexal tumors - Appear as bumps within the skin.
- Skin sarcomas - Appear as large masses under the skin’s surface.