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Skin Cancer

Types of skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and it comes in several forms, broadly divided into melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. The most common nonmelanoma skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Most skin cancers are preventable and treatable when caught early and treated.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer.  Because BCCs grow slowly and rarely spread, they are the most curable and cause minimal damage if caught and treated early. But untreated they can grow deep and wide destroying tissue and bone and causing disfigurement.

What causes basal cell carcinoma?

BCCs are caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning beds that damages the skin’s DNA.

What are the risk factors?

  • Incidence of BCCs increases with age with men over age 50 most at risk, but BCCs can occur in people in their teens and the twenties if they spend a lot of time in the sun or use a tanning bed.
  • Unprotected sun exposure or tanning bed use.
  • Having a history of skin cancer.
  • Fair skinned individuals, but people of color can develop BCCs.
  • People who have chronic skin infections, people with burns and scars are at increased risk.

Where are BCCs found?

They develop on skin that has been exposed to the sun for years, especially on the face, scalp, chest, neck, shoulders, arms, legs and back of the hands, but can be found on any part of the body.

What are the warning signs of BCC?

  • An open sore that won’t heal and may crust and bleed.
  • A reddish patch of skin with visible blood vessels that may crust, itch or cause no symptoms.
  • A pink growth with rolled edges that is indented in the center.
  • A flesh-colored, pearl-like bump that may be pink, red, or white and can be mistaken for a pimple; or tan, black or brown or pinkish bump that can be mistaken for a mole.
  • A flat scar like area that is white or yellow and looks shiny and tightly stretched with poorly defined borders. This may be a warning sign of an invasive BCC.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 20% of skin cancer cases each year.  If caught early and treated it is highly curable. Undiagnosed and untreated SCCs can become disfiguring, dangerous and even deadly spreading to deeper skin layers and to other parts of the body. Every year more than 15,000 people die from squamous cell carcinoma.

What causes squamous cell carcinoma?

SCC is caused by DNA damage to skin that has been exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun for years or tanning bed use.

What are the risk factors?

  • Men over age 50 are most at risk.
  • Unprotected sun exposure or tanning bed use.
  • Fair skinned individuals, but people of color can develop SCCs.
  • People with weakened immune systems.
  • People with a history of skin cancer including BCCs.
  • People with precancerous lesions called actinic keratosis.
  • People with a history of human papilloma virus.
  • People who have chronic skin infections, people with burns and scars are at increased risk.

Where are SCCs found?

SCCs are found on sun exposed skin on the face, scalp, hands, neck, ears and lips. However, it can also develop on skin that is not normally exposed to the sun.

What are the warning signs of SCCs?

  • Firm dome shaped growths.
  • Rough red bumps or scaly patches that bleed and crust over.
  • Sores that won’t heal.
  • Open sores with raised borders.
  • Raised growths with a central depression that grows in size and may bleed.
  • Brown spots that look like age spots.
  • Wart-like lesions that crusts and bleeds.
  • Horn-shaped growths that stick out.
  • Sore in scar tissue.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer because it can spread easily from the skin to the internal organs. It develops in the pigment producing cells that give the skin its color. It can develop in an existing mole but more often develops as a new spot that forms on normal skin. It often occurs on the chest, back, arms and legs, but also on the palms and soles of the feet. It can even form under a toenail or fingernail, in the mouth, vagina, anus or eye. If diagnosed and treated early the estimated 5-year survival is 99%.

Risk factors are sun exposure, multiple moles, a family history of melanoma and a weak immune system. Just one severe sunburn in childhood and adolescence doubles the risk of melanoma.

There are two main types of melanoma:

  • Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common. It can develop anywhere on the body but is often found on the upper back, on the torso in men and on the legs in women. It can develop as a new lesion or within an existing mole. It may be pink, blue, tan, brown, white or skin toned. It may be a flat or raised asymmetrical patch of discolored skin that has irregular borders.
  • Nodular melanoma is the most aggressive type of melanoma accounting for 10-15% of all cases of melanoma. It rapidly grows deep into the skin and is often invasive at the time it is diagnosed. It is found on the body, legs, arms, and scalp of older men. It can look like a bump on the skin that is blue/black but can also look like a pink or red bump.

It is important to schedule a complete annual skin cancer exam with Dr. Shagalov, a skin cancer expert, to ensure you have healthy skin and questionable skin lesions are diagnosed and treated early. Dr. Shagalov also recommends you perform a monthly skin self-check to find skin cancer early when it can be treated effectively. She always wants you to contact her about symptoms that cause concern. Dr. Shagalov is a board-certified dermatologist and a dual fellowship trained Mohs Surgeon and cosmetic dermatologist. Biscayne Dermatology is located in Midtown Miami on the border of Edgewater and Wynwood a few blocks from the Design District, Miami Beach, and Downtown Miami.

At a Glance

Dr. Devorah Shagalov

  • Double Board-Certified Dermatologist
  • Fellowship-Trained Mohs Micrographic Surgeon
  • Recipient of numerous dermatology awards
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