Skin cancer is an alarmingly prevalent and persistent disease today — the most common form of cancer in the United States. Each year more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than with breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their life.
The cases behind those numbers vary widely, however, as there are many different types of skin cancer that affect individuals in various ways. Here’s a look at the various types of skin cancer and what a diagnosis may mean for each.
The most common type of precancer, actinic keratosis (AK) is also called solar keratoses. It typically appears in the form of red, scaly lesions, though they can also be pink or tan. If left untreated, AK can turn into other forms of skin cancer. The most common treatment for AK is cryosurgery in which liquid nitrogen is applied to freeze the growth, which then crusts over and falls off. No anesthesia is required.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It’s described as looking like a“flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin.” Sometimes it may look like other skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. While it typically grows slowly, treatment is important as it can grow in size. There are a variety of treatments for BCC that include topical lotions, medications and surgery. A stage (which tells how widespread a cancer is) isn’t typically given because BC is usually cured before it spreads.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Coming in behind basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. It appears as a “red firm bump, scaly patch or a sore that heals and then re-opens.” Treatments include cryotherapy in early stages as well as surgery, radiation, and in advanced cases, chemotherapy or the removal of lymph nodes. Stages ranging from zero (cancer is just on the the skin) to four (cancer has spread to lymph nodes and other organs) are given as SCC can spread.
The deadliest form of skin cancer (melanoma causes 75 percent of skin cancer deaths), melanoma frequently grows in a mole or appears as a dark spot on the skin. Other warning signs of melanoma include a mole that changes in size, shape or color or one that has an irregular color or border. Early detection is vital. Treatments vary by the stage at which the cancer is found.
Melanoma stages also range from zero in which the cancer is just on the top layer of the skin to stage four in which cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body. While no cancer is good cancer, there are treatments that are successful for many people in each stage who go on to live full lives.
The good news it that many cases of skin cancer and its recurrence can be prevented. Approximately 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with UV radiation. Limiting sun exposure, avoiding tanning beds and wearing sunscreen and protective clothing can help as can monthly self skin examinations.
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