Where Do Skin Cancers Start
Most skin cancers start in the top layer of skin, called the epidermis. There are 3 main types of cells in this layer:
- Squamous cells: These are flat cells in the upper part of the epidermis, which are constantly shed as new ones form. When these cells grow out of control, they can develop into squamous cell skin cancer .
- Basal cells: These cells are in the lower part of the epidermis, called the basal cell layer. These cells constantly divide to form new cells to replace the squamous cells that wear off the skins surface. As these cells move up in the epidermis, they get flatter, eventually becoming squamous cells. Skin cancers that start in the basal cell layer are called basal cell skin cancers or basal cell carcinomas.
- Melanocytes: These cells make the brown pigment called melanin, which gives the skin its tan or brown color. Melanin acts as the bodys natural sunscreen, protecting the deeper layers of the skin from some of the harmful effects of the sun. Melanoma skin cancer starts in these cells.
The epidermis is separated from the deeper layers of skin by the basement membrane. When a skin cancer becomes more advanced, it generally grows through this barrier and into the deeper layers.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Common In Sun
Squamous cell carcinoma, also called squamous cell cancer, is the second most common type of skin cancer. It accounts for about 20 percent of cases.
This type of cancer starts in flat cells in the outer part of the epidermis. It commonly crops up on sun-exposed areas, such as the face, ears, neck, lips, and hands. It can also develop on scars or chronic sores.
Squamous cell carcinomas may develop from precancerous skin spots, known as actinic keratosis .
These cancers might look like:
- A firm, red bump
- A flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface
- A sore that heals and then reopens
People with lighter skin are more at risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma, but the skin cancer can also affect those with darker skin.
Other risk factors include:
- Having light eyes, blond or red hair, or freckles
- Being exposed to the sun or tanning beds
- Having a history of skin cancer
- Having a history of sunburns
- Having a weakened immune system
- Having the genetic disorder xeroderma pigmentosum
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What It Looks Like
Squamous cell cancer involves the runaway growth of keratinocytes, cells in the outermost layer of skin, which produce the protein keratin. Squamous means scaly in 60%80% of cases, the lesions emerge on or near scaly patches called actinic keratoses that develop from sun-damaged skin.
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Basal Cell Carcinoma Pictures
Basal cell carcinoma usually appears in areas of the skin previously exposed to high levels of UV radiation such as the head, neck, ears and the back of the arms and hands. It is common in exposed skin of outdoor workers or people who have used sun tanning beds in the past.
As the basal cell carcinoma pictures below indicate, this type of skin cancer usually shows as a fleshy coloured bump that does not disappear over time and tends to grow slowly in size, eventually breaking down and ulcerating.
Below are pictures of skin cancer on the neck, face and trunk . These images show common areas where basal cell carcinoma develops, but it can develop anywhere.
Basal cell carcinoma. The skin cancer pictures in this article were licensed from DermNet NZ
Early Detection And Treatment
While the number of people diagnosed with skin cancer is on the rise, early detection and treatment have caused death rates to drop. When treated early, doctors can cure nonmelanoma skin cancer.
For malignant melanoma, the outlook largely depends on how deeply the melanoma has grown into the skin, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma on the surface of the skin that is treated properly can be cured. In the United States, the overall five-year survival rate for melanoma that has not spread is about 98%. The survival rate falls to 62% if the disease spreads to lymph nodes, and 15% if the disease spreads to distant organs.
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Basic Information About Skin Cancer
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the skin, it is called skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Some people are at higher risk of skin cancer than others, but anyone can get it. The most preventable cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet light, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds.
Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet rays. To lower your risk of getting skin cancer, you can protect your skin from UV rays from the sun and from artificial sources like tanning beds and sunlamps.While enjoying the benefits of being outdoors, people can decrease skin cancer risk by using sun protection. Protect yourself by staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying and re-applying a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher.Links with this icon indicate that you are leaving the CDC website.
Diagnosis Of Skin Cancer
It is important to check your skin regularly and check with your doctor if you notice any changes.
In the majority of cases, your GP will examine you, paying attention to any spots that may look suspicious. Your GP may perform a biopsy . In some cases your GP may refer you to a specialist, such as a dermatologist, if necessary.
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Basal Cell Skin Cancer
BCC is the most common type of skin cancer. About 75 out of every 100 non melanoma skin cancers are BCCs. They develop from basal cells and these are found in the deepest part of the outer layer of the skin .
They develop mostly in areas of skin exposed to the sun, including parts of the face such as the nose, forehead and cheeks. Also, on your back or lower legs.
They are most often diagnosed in people who are middle aged or older.
Doctors might also call a basal cell cancer a rodent ulcer.
There are a number of different types of BCC. Each type can look and behave differently. They include:
- nodular basal cell skin cancer
- superficial basal cell skin cancer
- morphoeic basal cell skin cancer – also known as sclerosing or infiltrating basal cell skin cancer
- pigmented basal cell skin cancer
Nodular basal cell cancer is the most common subtype.
It’s very rare for basal cell skin cancer to spread to another part of the body to form a secondary cancer. It’s possible to have more than one basal cell cancer at any one time and having had one does increase your risk of getting another.
For More Information About Skin Cancer
National Cancer Institute, Cancer Information Service Toll-free: 4-CANCER 422-6237TTY : 332-8615
Skin Cancer Foundation
Media file 1: Skin cancer. Malignant melanoma.
Media file 2: Skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma.
Media file 3: Skin cancer. Superficial spreading melanoma, left breast. Photo courtesy of Susan M. Swetter, MD, Director of Pigmented Lesion and Cutaneous Melanoma Clinic, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Stanford University Medical Center, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
Media file 4: Skin cancer. Melanoma on the sole of the foot. Diagnostic punch biopsy site located at the top. Photo courtesy of Susan M. Swetter, MD, Director of Pigmented Lesion and Cutaneous Melanoma Clinic, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Stanford University Medical Center, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
Media file 5: Skin cancer. Melanoma, right lower cheek. Photo courtesy of Susan M. Swetter, MD, Director of Pigmented Lesion and Cutaneous Melanoma Clinic, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Stanford University Medical Center, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
Media file 6: Skin cancer. Large sun-induced squamous cell carcinoma on the forehead and temple. Image courtesy of Dr. Glenn Goldman.
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The Most Common Type Of Skin Cancer
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and it typically looks like a pearly or waxy bump, a flesh-colored growth, or a bleeding sore.
These most frequently appear on fair-skinned people after years of frequent exposure to the sun. Theyre most commonly found on sun-exposed areas like the head, neck or arms.
Basal cell carcinoma accounts for more than 80 percent of skin cancer cases.
If left untreated, basal cell carcinoma can penetrate nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.
Skin Cancer General Characteristics
Skin cancers are malignant growths on the skin. They mostly arise from the upper layer of the skin epidermis. Skin cancers may develop anywhere on the skin, including the scalp, lips or under-nail skin.
Skin cancers are most common after 50 years of age, but they may occur at any time.
Any chronic skin growth or discoloration that increases in size with time is suspicious for a skin cancer.
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Important Facts On Melanoma
Where does it grow? The tumor starts in the melanocytes which produce the pigment called melanin. Your skin produces melanin when exposed to the sun. The sun’s radiation is the top culprit.
However, you may be more susceptible to melanoma without being aware of it. Heredity plays a major role in melanoma. If you have a parent or a sibling who has been diagnosed with melanoma, you are at a higher risk. If it runs in your family, your risk goes up even hgher if you are always under the sun without any protection.
Melanoma is the most dangerous and the most serious form among the 3 types of skin cancer. It can cause serious illness and even death. Melanoma can advance and spread fast throughout the body. It is harder to treat and is more fatal because of its aggressiveness.
If you love the outdoors, you need not hide inside your house. Life is short not to enjoy it. Just make sure to wear sun protection clothing against UV radiation.
What are the signs you should be aware of? Appearance of new moles or unusual changes in moles are warning signs
Melanoma is the least common. It has fewer diagnosed cases but it causes the most deaths among the 3 different types of skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinomas And Squamous Cell Carcinomas
While melanoma often gets the most coverage, there are two other major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Often grouped together as non-melanoma skin cancers, these two types are much more common than melanoma cancer. Although they are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body, they may cause disfigurement if not treated early.
Basal cell carcinomas are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skins basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the outermost layer of the skin. They often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars and usually are caused by sun exposure.
Warning signs include:
- Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
- Raised reddish patches that may be itchy
- Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown or black areas
- Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which may contain abnormal blood vessels
- Open sores that dont heal or that heal and then return
- Basal cell cancers are often fragile and might bleed after shaving or after a minor injury. If you have a sore or a shaving cut that doesnt heal after a week, it would be wise to contact your doctor.
- Rough or scaly red patches, which may crust or bleed
- Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
- Open sores that dont heal or that heal and then come back
- Wart-like growths
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Identifying Skin Cancer: 37 Photos You Need To See
As we head into summer, its time to kick your safe skin practices into high gear. All individuals should apply a broad spectrum SPF every day, and watch their local UV forecast for daily updates when outside activities are planned.
Why? Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with the disease in his or her lifetime. There are more new cases of skin cancer every year than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although family history and your natural skin pigmentation play a role in your risk, the number-one thing that causes skin cancer is exposure to UV rays.
Erin Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation, offered these guidelines to weather.com in 2014: Avoid the sun when its at its peak wear sun-protective clothes, such as a hat always wear a broad-spectrum SPF. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
Its a myth that most sun damage occurs in childhood, so theres nothing you can do about it as an adult, Dr. Gilbert said.
Twenty-three percent of sun damage happens before youre 18, but it is cumulative. Its never too late to start protecting yourself, she said. Your melanoma risk doubles if youve had more than five severe sunburns at any age. Dont let a sunburn or a tan deter you from seeing your dermatologist or wearing sun screen the next day.
How To Lower Your Skin Cancer Risk
The number-one way to minimize skin cancer risk is to start wearing sunscreen 365 days a year, even if you spend the majority of your time indoors. Keep in mind, too, that the suns UV rays can penetrate glass, clouds and can be dangerous even in the winter.
In addition, see your dermatologist at least every 12 months for a screening. Those who may be at higher risk may benefit from visits every six months. You should also get to know your own skin, as most skin cancers are detected by the affected individual. When doing a self-check, keepthe ABCDEs of melanoma in mind, and if you notice anything unusual or see any changes, call your dermatologist ASAP.
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Medical Treatment For Skin Cancer
Surgical removal is the mainstay of skin cancer treatment for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. For more information, see Surgery.People who cannot undergo surgery may be treated by external radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is the use of a small beam of radiation targeted at the skin lesion. The radiation kills the abnormal cells and destroys the lesion. Radiation therapy can cause irritation or burning of the surrounding normal skin. It can also cause fatigue. These side effects are temporary. In addition, topical chemotherapy creams have been FDA approved for the treatment of certain low-risk nonmelanoma skin cancers. Patients with advanced or many basal cell carcinomas are sometimes prescribed oral pills to block the growth of these cancers. Side effects include muscle spasms, hair loss, taste changes, weight loss and fatigue.
In advanced cases of melanoma, immune therapies, vaccines, or chemotherapy may be used. These treatments are typically offered as clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies of new therapies to see if they can be tolerated and work better than existing therapies.
Rarer Types Of Non Melanoma Skin Cancer
There are other less common types of skin cancer. These include:
- Merkel cell carcinoma
- T cell lymphoma of the skin
- Sebaceous gland cancer
These are all treated differently from basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.
Merkel cell carcinoma
Merkel cell carcinoma is very rare. Treatment is with surgery or radiotherapy, or both. This usually works well, but sometimes the cancer can come back in the same place. And sometimes it spreads to nearby lymph nodes.
Sebaceous gland cancer
Sebaceous gland cancer is another rare type of skin cancer affecting the glands that produce the skin’s natural oils. Treatment is usually surgery for this type of cancer.
Kaposis sarcoma is a rare condition. It’s often associated with HIV but also occurs in people who don’t have HIV. It’s a cancer that starts in the cells that form the lining of lymph nodes and the lining of blood vessels in the skin. Treatment is surgery or radiotherapy, and sometimes chemotherapy.
T cell lymphoma of the skin
T cell lymphoma of the skin can also be called primary cutaneous lymphoma. It’s a type of non Hodgkin lymphoma. There are a number of different types of treatment for this type of cancer.
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Melanoma: The Deadliest Skin Cancer
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, because it tends to spread if its not treated early.
This cancer starts in the melanocytes cells in the epidermis that make pigment.
About 100,350 new melanomas are diagnosed each year.
Risk factors for melanoma include:
- Having fair skin, light eyes, freckles, or red or blond hair
- Having a history of blistering sunburns
- Being exposed to sunlight or tanning beds
- Living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation
- Having a family history of melanoma
- Having many moles or unusual-looking moles
- Having a weakened immune system
Melanoma can develop within a mole that you already have, or it can pop up as a new dark spot on your skin.
This cancer can form anywhere on your body, but it most often affects areas that have had sun exposure, such as the back, legs, arms, and face. Melanomas can also develop on the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, or fingernail beds.
Signs to watch out for include:
- A mole that changes in color, size, or how it feels
- A mole that bleeds
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