Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in our country, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the U.S. and affecting more people than breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer combined. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and it is deadly unless caught in the early stages. Fortunately some of the other forms of skin cancer do not spread to other parts of the body, and all are responsive to early treatment.
Sun exposure is known to be the single, most important risk factor for developing skin cancer; however, trauma, infection and X-ray exposure can also increase risk. People diagnosed with skin cancer should take special precautions to protect themselves from the sun by using sun block every day, wearing sun-protective clothing and avoiding midday sun.
The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinomas grow slowly and, if left untreated, can become large and disfiguring. Only rarely does basal cell carcinoma spread throughout the body.
Squamous cell carcinomas are more aggressive and have the potential to spread to other areas of the body. Melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer, can begin as a small mole or discoloration that can be virtually anywhere on your body, including your eyes (though this is rare). It can be cured if caught early so annual skin exams by a dermatologist are recommended.
Use the "ABCDE" to evaluate whether you should have a dermatologist examine any spots on your skin:
- Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
- Borders: The edges of the growth are irregular.
- Color: Color changes from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes white, red, or blue. A mixture of colors may appear within one sore.
- Diameter: The spot is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter -- about the size of a pencil eraser.
- Evolution: The mole keeps changing appearance.