Types of Skin Cancer and What to Look For
Skin cancer is defined by the National Cancer Institute as “cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin. There are several types of skin cancer. Skin cancer that forms in melanocytes (skin cells that make pigment) is called melanoma. Skin cancer that forms in the lower part of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) is called basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in squamous cells (flat cells that form the surface of the skin) is called squamous cell carcinoma. Most skin cancers form in older people on parts of the body exposed to the sun or in people who have weakened immune systems.”
Melanoma is a form of cancer that begins in the cells that make the pigment melanin. It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but it can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as in the eye or in the intestines.
What to look for:
One of the most visually variable of the skin cancers, melanoma can be detected in several ways, but the only way to accurately diagnose melanoma – and other forms of skin cancer – is to take a tissue sample and check it for cancer cells.
In most cases the first indications of melanoma show up in a new mole or an existing mole that is changing. Here’s what to look for when examining moles:
- Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
- Irregular Border: The edges of the mole are jagged or blurry. Check to see if the pigment has spread beyond the border of the mole to the surrounding skin.
- Uneven Color: If the mole appears in different shades of brown, black, or tan. Sometimes it may even show tints of pink, white, red or blue.
- Diameter: The mole appears to be increasing in size.
- Pattern of Change: The mole has changed over the past several weeks or months.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a slow growing form of cancer that begins in the outer layer of the skin. It may appear as a small white or flesh-colored bump that grows slowly and may bleed. Basal cell carcinomas are the most common of skin cancer and are usually found on areas of the body that have been overexposed to the sun. Basal cell carcinoma, which is also called basal cell cancer, rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
What to look for:
- White or waxy dome-shaped growth that may have visible blood vessels. Grows slowly and may bleed or ooze and develop a crust. May sink in the center.
- A brown or flesh-colored patch that is flat and scaly and does not heal. Is sometimes mistaken for eczema. Can also appear shiny and red.
- A white, waxy growth that looks like a scar. Can be very easy to overlook, but should can be a sign of a particularly invasive cancer.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that develops on skin that has been exposed to sun over many years. Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales, and are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, as well as the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the lining of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Precancerous lesions known as Actinic Keratosis (AK) may present as smaller scaly rough bumps, but if treated early can be stopped before they progress to cancer. Most cancers of head, neck, lower legs, and backs of hands are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cell carcinoma is highly curable with early diagnosis and treatment.
What to look for:
- A lump or bump on the skin that feels rough.
- A sore that does not heal or bleeds, crusts over, heals and then returns.
- A rough, pinkish patch on the skin that is painful, itches, or burns.
- Lips that are dry, scaly, or have a whitish color.
Check for Changes and Call Your Dermatologist
Be sure to check your skin thoroughly on a regular basis. If you have moles or skin sores that are new or are changing, make an appointment to have them examined by a medical dermatologist as soon as possible. A skin biopsy can be performed during an office visit and, depending on the findings of the report, a treatment plan can be developed to manage the cancer before it spreads.
Here in the High Desert of beautiful Bend, Oregon, we get to enjoy amazing weather and a lot of gorgeous sunny days, but unprotected exposure to the sun, especially over a number of years, can increase your chances of skin cancer. Don’t let it get away from you. Make an appointment with us at Central Oregon Dermatology if you have any concerns about moles, rashes, or skin conditions.