What Are The Three Types Of Skin Cancer?

Three types of skin cancer plague people every year. Two are easily cured while one remains the leading causing of cancer in women ages 25-29. Learn more about these cancers and what can be done to protect yourself from them.

Skin cancer rates are continuing to soar as people still find fun in the sun one of their favorite pastimes. Possibly acquiring skin cancer doesn't seem to worry enough people to make them change their habits. Quite possibly this is because two of the skin cancers are easily cured while one remains one of the deadliest of all cancers.

The two nonmelanoma types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Their difference from melanoma is partly to do with where the cancers arise from. Both the nonmelanoma skin cancers come from keratinocytes, unlike melanoma arising from melanocytes. Keratinocytes occur in the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis. Melanocytes occur in a variety of regions throughout the body, including the retina of the eye and linings of the mouth as well as the skin.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common types of skin cancer in human beings and most typically occurring in fair-skinned individuals who have spent many hours in the sun. These cancers tend to grow slowly and usually are found on sun-exposed part of the body like the hands and face. These cancers are similar in color to the surrounding skin and are either pink or red with a slightly translucent characteristic to them. Some people even describe their appearance as pearly. Tiny blood vessels can often be seen in the cancerous lesions which also means they bleed if injured or traumatized in any way. Also, a concave area in the center is possible as are pigmentation, though the latter is unusual.



Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma look so much alike that ordinarily a biopsy is required to differentiate the two. Overall, squamous cell carcinoma has a rougher surface and may be crusty or scaly, breaking open into a sore area which may bleed. Sometimes these cancers look like skin sores that just won't heal and a trip to the doctor is needed to diagnose it. Rarely do they spread to other parts of the body though, and thus, aren't as dangerous as melanoma skin cancer. Once these nonmelanoma skin cancers are removed a person is generally considered cured though more likely to develop the same cancer again at another time. Melanoma can also occur in these individuals since they are likely to be presenting with skin cancer due to excessive sun exposure at some point in their lives.

Melanoma, on the other hand, is not just localized and confined to one area like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma has the unique ability to spread to most any other part of the body. This is what makes melanoma so dangerous and more difficult to cure. Melanoma arises as skin cancer from a mole which has changed in some way and the cancer begins to spread into the deeper layers of the skin.

A normal mole has melanocytes which are similar in size and shape and tend to form a symmetrical pattern at the dermal-epidermal junction - the two top layers of the skin. An atypical mole which becomes melanoma is less regular is shape and size and even more so as the melanoma continues to progress and grow in size and depth invaded in the skin. Once melanoma reaches into the lymphatic system of the body, it has the potential to spread throughout the body by way of the lymph glands.

As the melanoma cells reach into the body they also travel through the bloodstream and can go anywhere. Amazingly enough, one lesion on the body which starts as a mole can lead to the death of a person. Once this happens with melanoma it is said to have metastasized. It can do so because the melanoma cells stick to the walls of the blood and lymphatic vessels and travel to the liver, brain or lungs, to name a few places. It only takes one tiny melanoma cell to set up the cycle of metastatic cancer.

Melanoma is not only the leading cancer in women ages 25-29 but also a close second behind breast cancer in women ages 30-34. Treatment involves removal of the primary lesion, the same as with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, but also includes follow-up care that is more intensive depending on the stage of cancer it was. Often, regular check-ups with a dermatologist are in order as are visits to the oncologist who may recommend further testing to be sure the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

Since all three types of skin cancer are related to sun exposure, the best preventative is to wear sunscreen when in direct sunlight and to be cautious of length of time spent in the sun. Protective clothing and hats are also a good idea, to keep the sun's rays from even contacting the skin and setting the cycle up for skin cancer.

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