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Exploring the three main types of skin cancers

By Metro

Published August 07, 2017

Skin cancer is a significant threat that does not discriminate based on age, gender or ethnicity. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

While the incidence rates of skin cancer are alarming, the good news is that skin cancer is highly curable if detected early and treated properly. Adults concerned about the threat posed by skin cancer can take a proactive approach by learning about the three main types of this often preventable disease.

Basal cell carcinoma

The American Cancer Society notes that roughly eight out of 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. Basal cells are in the lower part of the epidermis, or skin, which is known as the basal cell layer. Basal cell carcinomas typically develop on the head and neck or other areas of the body that are exposed to the sun. Though they rarely metastasize, basal cell carcinomas can spread to other areas of the body if left untreated.

The SCF notes that basal cell carcinomas may look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars. Basal cell carcinomas can be a byproduct of cumulative exposure to the sun or even intense, occasional sun exposure.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinomas most commonly appear on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, though the SCF notes they also may occur on the mucous membranes and genitals. According to the SCF, in the United States alone, more than one million people each year are diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, which is mainly caused by cumulative sun exposure over the course of a lifetime. Year-round exposure to ultraviolet light and UV rays from the sun, as well as UV exposure from tanning beds, can take a toll on the skinÕs squamous cells over time, ultimately leading to squamous cell carcinoma.

Squamous cell carcinomas may look like scaly red patches, open sores, warts, or elevated growths with a central depression. In addition, squamous cell carcinomas may crust or bleed.


Though they are far less common than basal and squamous cell cancers, melanomas are more likely to grow and metastasize if left untreated. Melanomas develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin calls triggers mutations that cause the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds is most often the cause of the damage connected to melanomas.

Melanomas typically resemble moles, and some may even develop from moles. Melanomas are often black or brown, but the SCF notes that they also may be pink, red, purple, blue, white, or even skin-colored. Early detection of melanoma before it spreads to other parts of the body is essential, as the SCF notes that melanoma is hard to treat and potentially fatal once it has begun to spread.

More information about skin cancer and how to prevent it is available at

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