What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in humans. Cancer in general is very frightening diagnosis since it is typically a disease with potentially fatal consequences. Skin cancer, although still a serious disease, has a number of positive aspects:
- Skin cancer is easier to detect since it develops on the surface of our body.
- Skin cancer, when detected early, has an extremely high cure rate.
- Skin cancer risk can be reduced by taking preventive measures.
There are three major kinds of skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal (pronounce like the herb basil) cell carcinoma (or cancer) is the most common form of skin cancer. It usually develops on sun-exposed areas of the body as a small, round, raised, red spot. Up to 75% of all basal cell cancers occur on the face. If a basal cell cancer is detected early, the chances of cure are good. If a basal cell cancer is left untreated it tends to grow in a very destructive and disfiguring way. Basal cell cancers typically do not spread (or metastasize) to lymph glands or to different parts of the body.
Read more about basal cell cancer.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous (pronounce s-kway-mus) cell carcinoma (or cancer) is the second most common skin cancer. It also occurs mainly on the sun-exposed areas of the body, including the face. It is typically a slowly growing cancer but it does have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. There is a relation between actinic keratosis, a preliminary stage of skin cancer and squamous cell cancer. If squamous cell cancer is detected early the cure rates are good.
Read more about squamous cell cancer.
Malignant Melanoma (MM)
Malignant melanoma (or just simply melanoma, since all melanomas have a malignant potential) is the most dangerous and life-threatening skin cancer of all. Melanoma has a great potential to spread to other parts of the body. Certain moles (called atypical moles or dysplastic moles) have the tendency to change their appearance and turn into melanoma. Because of the potentially fatal consequences of melanoma, it is important to detect melanomas as early as possible and to treat them aggressively.
Read more about melanoma.
In addition to the skin cancers described above, there are severely sun-damaged skin areas that are not yet skin cancer. These are called pre-cancerous since they have the potential to turn into skin cancer. The most common of all pre-cancerous conditions is called actinic keratosis.
Actinic Keratosis (AK)
Actinic keratosis is a pre-cancerous skin condition often associated with squamous cell cancer. Actinic keratosis (plural) nearly always occur on sun exposed areas, typically on the face, and look like a rough reddish scaly skin patch. Over time, if untreated, actinic keratosis can develop into skin cancer.
Read more about actinic keratosis.