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Skin cancer: Types and prevention: By Amanda K. Williams, DO
May 20, 2015

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer.  It usually results from too much exposure to the sun and starts in the cells of the skin.  Some other types of cancer that start in other parts of the body and can spread to the skin, but these are not skin cancers.  Fortunately, skin cancer can be both preventable and treatable. 

There are three main types of Skin Cancer:

1.     Basal cell carcinoma – The most common type, affecting about one million new people each year in the United Sates.

o    Caused by too much UV light exposure

o    Flat, flesh-colored lesion that can appear anywhere on the body

o    Shiny bump: pearly or translucent


2.     Squamous cell carcinoma – The second most common type of skin cancer, with 250,000 Americans diagnosed each year.

o    Caused by too much UV light exposure

o    Flat lesion with scaly surface

o    Hard, red nodule on sun-exposed areas


3.     Melanoma – The least common of the tree main skin cancer types, but can be the most deadly.  When skin melanoma goes untreated and spreads, it can become very serious.

o    Caused by too much UV light exposure

o    More common with numerous moles, bad sunburns, fair skin and a family history of melanoma

o    May look like an irregular mole that follows the ABCDEs of Melanoma:

§  Asymmetry: one half of the mole does not equal the other

§  Borders that are irregular

§  Colors that are different throughout

§  Diameter is large: >3mm or ¼ inch, or larger than a pencil eraser

§  Evolving (a mole that changes with time)

o    Can appear anywhere on the body (including under your fingernails and toenails, and on your palms and soles of your feet)

o    Curable when caught early, but potentially fatal if caught in the advanced stages

The only way to know definitively whether a mole or spot on your skin is cancer is to have your doctor look at it.


The cornerstone of prevention is reduction of exposure to UV radiation (i.e., the sun and tanning beds.)  Use a high SPF sunscreen (30 or greater), wear long-sleeved clothing and hats, and minimize the time you spend in the direct sun.  It is also important to know your skin very well by doing a full body check once a month.  Your doctor should also do a skin check once a year. This will increase your chance of early diagnosis and treatment and (as with any cancer) the best outcome.

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