One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer over their lifetime. In fact, skin cancer is so common that over the past 30 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other types of cancer combined. Knowing how to recognize skin cancer and precancerous skin lesions can protect you. We can help you be prepared and know how to recognize any warning signs early so that you can live a long and healthy life.
Skin Cancer Types
Skin cancer is when abnormal skin cells grow at accelerated and uncontrollable rates. The three main forms of skin cancer are:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): The most common type of skin cancer. BCCs appear as either a shiny or pink growth, a red patch, or an open sore.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): The second most common type of skin cancer. SCCs often appear as a persistent, rough, scaly, thick, red patch of skin. SCCs may also look like an open sore, a wart, or an elevated growth, and they may crust or bleed.
- Melanoma: A serious type of skin cancer. Melanomas often look like moles and are usually black or brown, but they can also be flesh in color, red, pink, purple, or even blue or white. Melanoma is most easily recognized as an atypical mole or a mole that changes appearance over time.
Skin cancer is more likely to develop in areas that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, scalp, neck, hands, arms, legs, and ears. The vast majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning booths. Individuals who frequently spend time outdoors, especially without wearing sunscreen or protective clothing, are more likely to develop skin cancer.
Precancerous Skin Lesions
Some people develop precancerous skin lesions that are not currently a threat but are likely to become serious without treatment. An example is an actinic keratosis, which appears as a small, persistent rough patch (“plaque”) of a pink, red, or brown color. These rough patches are often dry and scaly, and they may bleed in older patients. As much as 10 percent of actinic keratosis lesions will become cancerous within two years and should be treated right away.
Early detection of cancerous and precancerous lesions is critical for the successful eradication of skin cancer. You should know your own skin very well and be able to recognize any changes when they occur, as sudden changes in your skin can point to cancer. Our Skin Diagnosis & Reference Guide can show you what cancerous and precancerous skin lesions may look like and when you should contact your dermatologist. Your dermatologist can also help you learn to recognize suspicious lesions and know what to do. Upon identification of a skin lesion, your dermatologist will determine a treatment plan. For precancerous lesions, this might include cryotherapy, topical medications, chemical peels, fractional laser resurfacing, or photodynamic therapy. Cancerous lesions may be treated with Mohs micrographic surgery, excision, topical medication, cryotherapy, fractional laser resurfacing, or electrodesiccation and curettage. With early detection and the right treatment, you can have hope for a healthy future and long life.