It is estimated that one in seven people in the United States will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. Although anyone can get skin cancer, people who burn easily and are fair-skinned are at higher risk. Researchers believe that one serious sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer by as much as 50%. A yearly skin exam by a doctor is the best way to detect skin cancer early, when it is most treatable. If you have a new growth or any change in your skin, be sure to see your doctor to have it examined. Remember, protecting yourself (and your children) from the sun is the best way to prevent all forms of skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Affecting approximately 800,000 Americans each year, basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. This cancer arises in the basal cells, which are found at the bottom of the epidermis (outer skin layer).

Basal cell carcinomas occur most frequently on exposed parts of the body, including the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back. It usually appears as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin. Chronic exposure to sunlight is the cause of most basal cell carcinomas. People who are at the highest risk for developing this disease have fair skin and blonde or red hair and blue, green, or grey eyes. People who spend long hours outdoors and those who spend a lot of leisure time in the sun are also particularly susceptible. Although this disease usually strikes those who are middle-aged or older, doctors are reporting that more and more people in their twenties and thirties are being treated for basal cell carcinoma.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The second most common cancer of the skin, squamous cell carcinoma is a tumor that occurs in the outer layer of the skin (the epithelium). More than 250,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinomas are diagnosed every year in the United States. Middle-aged and elderly people, especially those with fair complexions and frequent sun exposure, are most likely to be affected. It often appears as a bump, or as a red, scaly patch on the rim of the ear, the face, the lips, and the mouth.

Squamous cell carcinomas often arise from small, sandpaper-like growths called actinic keratoses. They may appear as nodules or red, scaly patches of skin. A squamous cell carcinoma can occur anywhere on the body, even on the lips or the inside of the mouth. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, it can metastasize and spread to other areas of the body if not treated in a timely manner.

Malignant Melanoma

Melanoma has its beginnings in melanocytes, the skin cells that produce the dark, protective pigment called melanin which makes the skin tan. Melanoma is the most deadly of all the skin cancers and affects over 44,000 Americans each year. Although thousands of Americans will die from this disease, melanoma is almost always curable when detected in its earliest stages.

Melanoma may suddenly appear without warning, but it may also begin in, or near a mole, or another dark spot in the skin. Excessive sun exposure, particularly sunburn, is thought to be the most important cause of melanoma. There is also evidence that ultraviolet radiation used in indoor tanning may also cause melanoma. Heredity also plays a part since a person has an increased chance of developing melanoma if a family member has had it. Regular skin cancer check-ups are the best way to fight this deadly disease.