Skin Cancer Basics
Skin cancer is the growth of abnormal skin cells that form tissue at an uncontrollable and unpredictable rate. It is the most common and rapidly increasing form of cancer in the United States. Here are some basic facts about skin cancer:
Causes of Skin Cancer
The leading cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, whether through sunlight or tanning beds. UV light damages the DNA with repeated exposure. The effects of sun damage are cumulative over many years and typically result in most skin cancers appearing in later adulthood. Heredity also plays a part. Family history is a strong indicator of risk in certain ethnic groups. Fair-skinned people who sunburn easily are at a particularly high risk for developing skin cancer.
Other causes include repeated medical and industrial X-ray exposure, scarring from severe diseases or burns, and occupational exposure to certain chemical compounds. Immunosuppressed patients, such as organ transplant recipients or patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), are at greatly increased risk as well, because their immune systems are not as capable of warding off cancerous cells.
Types of Skin Cancer
The three most common types of skin cancer account for approximately 99 per cent of all skin cancers. These include:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma ranks as the most common form of skin cancer. It is found in approximately 80 percent of all diagnosed skin cancer cases. It forms from the base of the uppermost skin layer (epidermis), and in most cases, it doesn’t spread beyond the skin to other parts of the body. Basal cell carcinoma typically grows slowly on the skin but ought to be removed due to the extensive local damage it can cause in surrounding tissue. A BCC can assume various appearances, typically as a small pearly or pink skin-colored bump, but also as a scar-like growth or a scaly area. If left untreated, BCC will often bleed, crust over, heal, and repeat the cycle.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
The second most common form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma develops from cells above the bottom of the epidermis. These are known as squamous cells. SCC is a potentially more dangerous type of cancer than BCC, because it has the ability to metastasize (or break away) from the skin and spread to local lymph nodes or to other areas of the body. Such is more often the case with larger, aggressive SCCs or rapidly growing tumors on the ears, scalp, lips, or genitalia. Patients that are immunosuppressed (e.g. organ transplant patients or those with chronic lymphocytic) or those with tumors that have recurred following previous treatment have an increased risk of spreading. SCC can manifest itself as a persistent rough scaly area or a hard red bump. It also tends to appear on areas that are chronically exposed to the sun, including the face, scalp, neck, upper back, and arms.
- Malignant Melanoma (MM)
The third most common type of skin cancer also has the potential to be the most dangerous, accounting for 75 percent of all skin cancer related deaths. Melanoma develops from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce the pigment called melanin, which give the skin, hair, and eyes their color. Its appearance can vary, but the cancer classically has mixed shades of brown and black with asymmetry and irregular borders. It can develop in a mole or appear as a new mole. Less commonly, it can also be red or white. Melanoma has a strong tendency to metastasize (spread) to distant organs and can thus be life-threatening. Fortunately, early detection and surgical removal can result in a high cure rate. Once melanoma has spread, the cure rate reduces significantly.
Sun exposure, especially sunburn, is the most important preventable cause of melanoma. Individuals with light skin and light eyes have the most risk. Heredity also plays a part. A person with a relative or close family member that has had melanoma has an increased chance of developing it. Atypical moles (dysplastic nevi), which may run in families, and having a large number of moles, can serve as markers for people at increased risk for developing melanoma.
Skin Cancer Doctor in Miami, Florida
If you are concerned about changes to your skin, don’t hesitate to consult with a highly qualified dermatologist like Dr. T.J. Giuffrida, founder of Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center in Miami, Florida. Board-certified and fellowship trained with more than 20 years of experience in practice, Dr. Giuffrida is recognized as one of the leading authorities on skin cancer. To schedule an appointment, call our office today at (305) 461-2000 or use our secure online Request an Appointment form.