Skin cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the skin cells. In the U.S. alone, more than 2 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed in 2013 with nonmelanoma skin cancer, and more than 76,000 are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society.
There are three main types of skin cancer, including:
Basal cell carcinoma accounts for approximately 80 percent of all skin cancers. This highly treatable cancer starts in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and grows very slowly. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin, mainly those areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, arms, hands, and face. It most commonly occurs among people with light-colored eyes, hair, and complexion.
Squamous cell carcinoma, although more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma, is highly treatable. It accounts for about 20 percent of all skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as nodules or red, scaly patches of skin, and may be found on sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, lips, and mouth. However, if left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body. This type of skin cancer is usually found in fair-skinned people.
Malignant melanoma accounts for a small percentage of all skin cancers, but accounts for most deaths from skin cancer. Malignant melanoma starts in the melanocytes–cells that produce pigment in the skin. Malignant melanomas sometimes begin as an abnormal mole that then turns cancerous. This cancer may spread quickly. Malignant melanoma most often appears on fair-skinned men and women, but people with all skin types may be affected.
Take a Melanoma Quiz
Check your moles or growths for signs of melanoma using ABCDE:
Skin cancer is more common in fair-skinned people, especially those with blond or red hair, who have light-colored eyes. Skin cancer is rare in children. However, no one is safe from skin cancer.
Other risk factors include:
Family history of melanoma
Personal history of skin cancer
Sun exposure. The amount of time spent unprotected in the sun directly affects your risk of skin cancer.
Early childhood sunburns. Research has shown that sunburns early in life increase a person’s risk for skin cancer later in life.
Large or many ordinary moles
An immunosuppressive disorder or weakened immune system (such as in people who have had organ transplants)
Exposure to certain chemicals, like arsenic
HPV (human papillomavirus)
Certain rare inherited conditions, such as basal cell nevus syndrome (Gorlin syndrome), or xeroderma pigmentosum (XP)