The three most common forms of skin cancer have one thing in common: they are easy to miss. Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma can all appear as moles or birthmarks, seemingly innocuous to the untrained eye, while concealing a potentially life-threatening condition.
All skin cancer is caused or accelerated by exposure to UV radiation, either through sun exposure or from indoor tanning equipment. For this reason, you should always wear sunscreen containing SPF of at least 30 and NEVER use indoor tanning equipment. That’s what spray-tan is for!
While only a board-certified dermatologist can diagnose or rule out the possibility of skin cancer, it helps to know what to look for in order to identify each condition.
Basal Cell Carcinoma, or BCC, is the most common form of skin cancer. Over 3 million cases are diagnosed each year in the United States and fatalities from it are almost unheard of. Still, it is important to diagnose and treat early, as evidence shows that untreated skin cancer precedes the formation of other cancers in the body, including other skin cancers (AAD.org).
BCC generally appears as an open sore or lesion that refuses to heal or that heals and reopens. A raised bump, often shiny and pink, white, or red on lighter skin and brown or black on darker skin, may also indicate BCC. Areas of skin that flake or crust over and refuse to heal are common.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma, or SCC, is the second most common form of skin cancer. While it shares many of the same visual characteristics as BCC, SCC can be harder to detect because it often occurs in areas of the body not exposed to sunlight.
Itching, bleeding, crusting, or red areas of skin, featuring wart-like bumps and raised edges, are common signs of SCC. Pre-existing sores or moles may also develop SCC, causing new tissue to appear around these old skin markings. Raised skin, irregular edges, a crusting or bleeding center, or discoloration may be an indication of SCC.
Melanoma is the most serious of the three most common skin cancers. It affects thousands of people every year and, when detected and treated early, presents a high survival rate. However, it is not to be taken lightly.
Like BCC and SCC, it can occur anywhere on the body and is worsened or even caused by sun exposure. It typically appears as an irritated open sore or itchy bump or mole of more than one color with a raised center and/or an irregular (non-round) shape. Nearby blood vessels may be visible and the area may flake or crust.
Self-examinations go a long way in staying ahead of these and other types of skin cancers, but the best way is to undergo an annual examination from a board-certified dermatologist.