Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer. There are three most common types, and skin cancer symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer.
Three Most Common Types of Skin Cancer
The top layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, contains three different types of cells. Squamous cells make up the top layer, basal cells make up the middle layer, and melanocytes make up the last layer before the deeper layers of skin. The three most common skin cancers are caused by mutations and growths of these three types of cells.
Squamous and Basal Cell Carcinomas
Squamous cell cancer and basal cell cancer (also known as carcinomas) make up almost all skin cancer cases. Basal cell carcinoma makes up about 80% of skin cancers and squamous cell carcinoma makes up approximately the other 20%. Both are most often formed from too much sun exposure and usually appear in areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, and arms, but they can also occur elsewhere. Both are very treatable, though can spread to the bone or surrounding organs if left untreated. Squamous cell carcinoma is more likely to spread than basal cell carcinoma.
Melanoma is caused by mutated melanocytes (the cells in the bottom layer of the epidermis). It’s much less common than the other types of skin cancers discussed above, but more dangerous because it’s much more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and treated early. Melanoma is most often found on the trunk or back for men and legs and arms for women.
Skin Cancer Symptoms and Signs
Skin cancer signs are often present long before the cancer causes bothersome symptoms. Symptoms can include itching, bleeding, or pain, but usually only if left untreated for a long time. Therefore, it’s important to be able to identify when to check abnormal skin growths.
Signs and Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma:
- Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
- Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
- Open sores that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back
- Wart-like growths
Signs and Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma:
- Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
- Raised reddish patches that might be itchy
- Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas
- Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which might contain abnormal blood vessels
- Open sores that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back.
Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma:
Unusual moles, sores, lumps, blemishes, markings, or changes in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of melanoma or another type of skin cancer, or a warning that it might occur.
Any of the above could be signs of skin cancer, so it is important to get any strange skin growths checked by a doctor. However, a great rule of thumb while checking for skin cancers is the ABCDE rule. If you have any spots on your skin that fit the below, be sure to have your doctor check it out.
- A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
- B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
- C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
- D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
- E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.