There are several different types of skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer, but only a fraction of skin cancer cases are fatal. However, all cases require treatment of some kind to avoid other unpleasant and potentially disfiguring results.
You can't completely avoid contracting skin cancer, but you minimize your chances by being vigilant about sun exposure.
Non-melanoma skin cancers
The two most common types of skin cancer are rarely fatal but can grow larger and cause disfigurement if not treated early. However, they are mostly localized to a specific area of the skin and rarely spread to other organs. These are:
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cells are the deep inner layer cells that divide and multiply to eventually flatten and form new squamous (surface skin) cells. This type of skin cancer is the most prevalent, representing eighty percent of non-melanoma skin cancer cases. It is usually confined to the head and neck area, and will often reappear after removal, especially if all of the cancerous material is not removed.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cells are the cells on the outer layer of the skin that shed in a continuous manner as new skin cells are developed. However, the squamous cells that develop into skin cancer are the new cells in the inner layers of the skin, before they reach the outer layer and shed themselves.
This type of cancer usually appears on parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, and hands, and because it is deep inside the inner layers of skin, it's possible, though rare, for the cancer to spread to other organs.
Both of these types of cancer will first appear as precancerous lesions, rough scaly patches of skin, or irregularly shaped moles.
This type of cancer is potentially fatal if not caught and treated early. Melanoma develops from melanocytes, which are the cells in the skin that produce pigments to darken and protect the skin from being damaged by the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Malignant melanoma, which is capable of reproducing and invading other parts of the body, must often be treated with surgery or radiation in order to remove it or halt its growth. While it is the least prevalent of the three main types of skin cancer, accounting for only two percent of cases, it is the most dangerous of the three.
Protecting yourself from skin cancer
Avoiding the sun is not always possible, but you can minimize its damaging effects by:
- Using sunscreen. Reapply sunscreen often , especially after swimming
- Avoiding midday sun. Don't linger in the sun between 11 AM and 3 PM.
- Wearing appropriate clothing. Hats should be worn to protect the head. Don't assume that all clothes will block ultraviolet rays. Many light summer clothes allow harmful UV rays to reach the skin.
- Avoiding tanning, either outside or inside on tanning beds. Sun-darkened skin is a sign of damage, not health.
Have any unusual growths, moles, or lesions on your skin checked for possible skin cancer by your doctor or a dermatologist like Vail Dermatology.