One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. There are different types of skin cancer, and they each have different treatments and prognoses, so it’s important to understand the nuances — and take steps to protect yourself.
The least common but deadliest form of skin cancer is malignant melanoma, and it develops in the pigment-producing cells of the skin. Those with fair skin and a history of sun exposure have the highest risk of melanoma, and this type of skin cancer can strike as early as the 30s. Early detection is key for the best outcomes and survival rates, so if you see a suspicious spot, don’t delay in gettingit checked out by a dermatologist.
Squamous cell carcinoma
The second most common skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, and it occurs in the cells that make up the surface of the skin. Those with light skin and a history of sun exposure are most prone to this skin cancer, and men experience it more often than women. Squamous cell carcinoma usually begins as actinic keratoses, which are abnormal cells that appear as rough, red bumps that appear on the face, ears, scalp and backs of the hands.
Basal cell carcinoma
Accounting for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers in the United States, basal cell carcinoma is the result of unprotected sun exposure, and usually occurs in fair-skinned men and women over age 50. Although this skin cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body, the lesions can damage surrounding tissue if left untreated. The face is the most common area affected, but basal cell carcinoma appears in areas like the arms, chest, back, legs and scalp in about 20 percent of cases. Basal cell carcinomas grow slowly, and usually look like a small dome-shaped bump that can be surrounded by small blood vessels. In order to make a diagnosis, the lesion must be removed and biopsied.
The No. 1 way to minimize skin cancer risk is to start wearing sunscreen 365 days a year, even if you spend a majority of your time indoors. In addition, see your dermatologist every 12 months for a screening (those at higher risk may benefit from visits every six months). You should also get to know your own skin, as most skin cancers are spotted on our own. When doing a self-check, keep these guidelines in mind, and if you notice anything unusual or any changes, call your dermatologist ASAP.
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.