by Amanda Rodríguez Orengo
What are the types of skin cancer?
The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These two types of cancer can usually be treated and cured . However, if they are left untreated for a long time then the cancer will continue to grow and a larger area will need to be removed, which may be disfiguring .
The third type of skin cancer is melanoma. Melanoma has the greatest risk of death due to its tendency to spread. Therefore, early detection is crucial .
How do I recognize these skin cancers?
Basal cell carcinomas often look like skin-colored growths, pearl-like bumps, or pinkish patches.
Squamous cell carcinomas typically look like reddish bumps, scaly patches, or sores .
Melanomas can appear as a new dark spot on your skin or develop inside an existing mole . To help recognize melanoma, a commonly used acronym is the A-B-C-D-E’s . If any of your moles have these characteristics, then you should consult a healthcare professional.
• “A” stands for asymmetry: If an imaginary line is drawn through the middle of a melanoma, then each side often looks different.
• “B” represents borders: Melanomas often have irregular borders compared to the rounded and even edges of normal moles.
• “C” indicates color: Melanomas may have a mixture of different colors.
• “D” refers to diameter: Melanomas are typically larger than ¼ inch or 6 mm.
• “E” signifies evolving: Melanomas can change and appear different within months or weeks, but healthy moles usually remain the same for years.
What can increase my risk of getting skin cancer?
Several factors can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light such as from sunlight or tanning beds is the primary cause. Other risk factors include having light skin, skin that easily burns, blue or green eyes, blonde or red hair, many moles, a family history of skin cancer, and personal history of skin cancer . Skin cancer rates increase with age and rates are highest in people who are 75 years old or older .
How can I decrease my risk of getting skin cancer?
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of developing skin cancer. Protecting yourself from UV light is crucial. This can be achieved by using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and frequently reapplying it. Additionally, wearing protective clothing such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and sunglasses can shield your skin from harmful UV rays, which are present even in shaded areas .
Protecting and regularly examining your skin as well as quickly getting medical attention for suspicious areas are essential for maintaining healthy skin and preventing skin cancer.
1. “What is Skin Cancer?” CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Updated 18 April 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/what-is-skin-cancer.htm
2. “Ask the Expert: Why do Some Skin Cancers Go Untreated” Skin Cancer. Updated 9 May 2022. https://www.skincancer.org/blog/ask-the-expert-why-do-some-skin-cancers-go-untreated/#:~:text=But%20sometimes%20they%20can%20grow,is%20done%20to%20stop%20them.
3. “Types of Skin Cancer.” (American Academy of Dermatology). 2023. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/types/common
4. Matthews NH, Li WQ, Qureshi AA, et al. Epidemiology of Melanoma. In: Ward WH, Farma JM, editors. Cutaneous Melanoma: Etiology and Therapy [Internet]. Brisbane (AU): Codon Publications; 2017 Dec 21. Figure 2, Worldwide age-standardized annual incidence of melanoma by age. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK481862/figure/chapter1.f2/doi: 10.15586/codon.cutaneousmelanoma.2017.ch1
5. “Sun Safety.” CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Updated 18 April 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/what-is-skin-cancer.htm
Illustration by Amanda Rodríguez Orengo
Amanda Rodríguez Orengo is from Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2020 with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology and a minor in psychology. She is currently a medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry where she is a member of the “Latinx Health Pathway” and the “Latino Medical Student Association.” She is interested in a future career in dermatology or pediatrics.