Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. Get the facts on skin cancer types, symptoms, signs and treatment and types.

Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined with more than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer diagnosed in this country each year. Early skin cancer detection is key to saving lives especially when melanoma accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

Oftentimes, people go about their fun in the sun lives without acknowledging the high risk that the sun inflicts on the skin. There are many things you can do to detect and protect against skin cancer. But first, let’s get to the bottom of what is skin cancer?

What Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.

Skin Cancer Types

There are 3 main types of skin cancers:

  • Basal cell skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas)
  • Squamous cell skin cancers (squamous cell carcinomas)
  • Melanomas

Basal and Squamous Cell Cancers are types of skin cancer that are classified as non-melanomas to set them apart from the more serious type of skin cancer, melanoma. They usually start in the basal cells or squamous cells, which is how they get their names. These cells are found at the base of the outer layer of the skin. Most basal and squamous cell cancers develop on sun-exposed areas of the skin, like the face, ears, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands.

Basal (left) & Squamous (right) Cells

Depending on the type, they can be fast or slow growing, but they rarely spread to other parts of the body. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer with more than 4 million cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer with more than 1 million cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers can be cured if found and treated early. Basal cell carcinoma is discussed in more detail in The Most Frequently Occurring Form of Skin Cancer  and squamous cell carcinoma in The Second Most Common Form of Skin Cancer.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes. It is potentially dangerous because it can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. The earlier melanoma is detected and removed, the more likely the treatment will be successful. It can develop from a common mole or a dysplastic nevus and in areas of apparently normal skin. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, or size of a mole.

Treatment often starts with complete removal of the melanoma and normal-looking skin around it. This helps to ensure that the cancer cells are removed.Melanomas are discussed in more detail in Melanoma Skin Cancer.

Atypical melanocytic proliferations (AMP’s) are neoplasms which are considered to be precursors to melanoma. They begin in melanocytes and show features under the microscope which are very similar to melanoma. Like melanomas, they can develop from a normal mole, a dysplastic nevus, or on normal skin. If an AMP is left untreated, there is a high likelihood that it will develop into a melanoma. Therefore treatment involves surgical excision to insure that the lesion is completely removed.

Dysplastic Nevus

What is a dysplastic nevus? A dysplastic nevus is an unusual mole that may be large and flat and does not have a symmetric round or oval shape. The edge is often indistinct. It may have a mixture of pink, tan, or brown shades. Dysplastic nevi, while not cancerous, have the potential to change and develop into melanoma, a life threatening skin cancer. People who have many dysplastic nevi have a greater chance of developing melanoma.

Who has an increased risk of developing dysplastic nevi? People with numerous moles, significant sun exposure or a family history of melanoma are at risk.

How do you identify and treat dysplastic nevi? A dysplastic nevus may occur anywhere on the body, but is usually seen in areas exposed to the sun. A dysplastic nevus may also appear in areas not typically exposed to the sun, such as the scalp. The “ABCDE” rule describes the features of early melanoma and is a tool used to identify abnormal moles. As a preventative measure, an excision may be recommended to remove the mole and the surrounding margin of abnormal cells.

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

It’s important for your dermatologist to tell the types of skin cancer apart, because they are treated differently. It’s also important for you to know what skin cancers look like. This can help you find them at the earliest possible stage, when they are cured most easily. The “ABCDE” rule describes the features of early melanoma and is a tool used to identify abnormal moles.

“ABCDE” Tool

  • Asymmetry = uneven
  • Borders = irregular
  • Color = variety of shades
  • Diameter = >6mm
  • Evolving = mole changing size, shape, or color

What Causes Skin Cancer?

The best ways to help lower your risk of skin cancer is to stay out of intense sunlight and practice sun safety. Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (from sunlight or tanning beds and lamps)
  • Pale skin (easily sunburned, doesn’t tan much or at all, natural red or blond hair)
  • Exposure to large amounts of coal tar, paraffin, arsenic compounds, or certain types of oil
  • You or members of your family have had skin cancers
  • Multiple or unusual moles
  • Severe sunburns in the past
  • Weakened immune system
  • Older age (although melanomas are also found in younger people)

Affiliated Dermatology recommends annual full body skin exams with your dermatologist in addition to monthly self-exams for patients with a personal history of melanoma. In addition, we recommend that individuals identified during routine care who meet any of the following criteria be considered for skin cancer risk assessment by a dermatologist:

  • A family history of melanoma in two or more blood relatives
  • The presence of multiple atypical moles
  • The presence of numerous actinic keratoses (precancerous lesions that are grey to pink colored scaly patches of skin on sun-exposed areas of the body)

Check For Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can be found early, and you and your health care providers play key roles in finding skin cancer. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, people must practice monthly head-to-toe self examination of their skin, so that they can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous. Skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable. Learn how to examine your skin for changes with skin cancer photos. If you have any of these symptoms, see a provider:

  • Any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot, or a new growth (even if it has no color)
  • Scaliness, roughness, oozing, bleeding, or a change in the way an area of skin looks
  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • The spread of pigment (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
  • A change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
  • Check the skin on all surfaces of your body, even in your mouth.
  • Watch for a new mole or other new growth on your skin.
  • Check for changes in the appearance of an old growth on the skin or scar (especially a burn scar).
  • Watch for a patch of skin that is a different color and becomes darker or changes color.
  • Watch for a sore that does not heal – it may bleed or form a crust.
  • Check your nails for a dark band. Check with your doctor if you see changes, such as if the dark band begins to spread.

Prevent Skin Cancer

Follow these tips to protect your skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure and reduce your risk of skin cancer. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to limit exposure to sunlight. Having a suntan or sunburn means that the skin has been damaged by the sun, and continued tanning or burning increases the chance of developing skin cancer.

  • Always use sunscreen, at least 30 SPF UVA/UVB
  • Wear a wide brim hat and sunglasses
  • Avoid midday sun exposure – the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Avoid tanning booths
  • Perform self examinations once a month
  • Schedule an annual full body skin exam with your dermatologist

How To Treat Skin Cancer

Annual complete body skin examinations by the doctors at Affiliated Dermatology can help in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. Affiliated Dermatology also specializes in the treatment of malignant melanoma by using the specialized technique of slow Mohs surgery.

Slow Mohs Surgery

Some tumor cell types, including melanocytes, lose their cellular details when processed as frozen tissue used in traditional Mohs surgery. In order to accurately and adequately evaluate excised tissue margins of thin melanomas, a leading-edge, modified Mohs surgery technique called “slow Mohs” was recently developed.

The slow Mohs procedure for skin cancer, utilizes permanent sections for tissue evaluation. This skin cancer procedure allows for microscopic evaluation of the entire surgical margin. Any residual tumor seen is removed by repeating the “slow Mohs” procedure. After complete removal of the melanoma cells, reconstructive surgery is completed with maximal preservation.

With an in-house laboratory and board-certified dermatopathologist, the doctors at Affiliated Dermatology are able to provide this new state- of-the-art treatment for thin melanomas.

Free Skin Cancer Screenings

Our dermatologists volunteer their time and expertise to provide skin cancer screenings as a free service through Affiliated Dermatology. For more information or to schedule a screening for your organization, school or wellness event, please submit your information below.

Whether you wish to receive treatment for a skin condition or an aesthetic procedure, you can be assured you will be treated with professional and personal care by one of our Dermatologists, Physician Assistants, and other professional staff.

Arizona Skin Cancer Foundation

Affiliated Dermatology is a proud supporter of the Arizona Skin Cancer Foundation. Through the foundation’s assistance program, Affiliated Dermatology is able to provide medical services for patients who do not have health insurance. Find detailed information on the Arizona Skin Cancer Foundation and the assistance program.

Skin Cancer Screening in Arizona

Find a dermatologist near you in Arizona for your skin cancer screening at one of Affiliated Dermatology’s five convenient locations. Our skin cancer treatment clinics are located in Scottsdale, Anthem, Deer Valley, Surprise and Gilbert.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. If you notice a change on your skin, see your doctor at Affiliated Dermatology. Don’t wait until the change looks like the more advanced skin cancers. When skin cancer is found early, it can be treated more easily. And remember, if you can spot it, you can stop it. Call today to schedule your skin cancer screening appointment.