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Skin Cancer


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Over 500,000 new cases occur annually. The incidence for skin cancer is rising faster than any other type of cancer. While skin cancers can be found on any part of the body, they occur most on frequently "sun exposed skin:" the face, head, or neck. Skin cancers occur more often on the left side of the head than the right... because that is the side that gets sun when we drive.

Who is at risk for skin cancer?

The primary cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation, such as from the sun and indoor tanning. Skin cancer rates are increasing in large part due to use of tanning beds and sunbathing. And, unfortunately, the sun exposure we had in our youth stays with us --- the effects often show up years later.

ANYONE CAN GET SKIN CANCER, regardless of skin type, race, gender, age, or occupation.  Risk increases if…

  • Your skin is fair and freckles easily.
  • You have light-colored hair and eyes.
  • You have a large number of moles, or moles of unusual size or shape.
  • You have a family history of skin cancer. 
  • You have a personal history of blistering sunburn.
  • You spend a lot of time working or playing outdoors.
  • You use indoor tanning beds
  • You live closer to the equator, at a higher altitude, or in any place that gets intense, year-round sunshine.
  • You received therapeutic radiation treatments for adolescent acne.

3 common types of skin cancer 

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common type of skin cancer, is also usually the least dangerous. BCC usually grows slowly and rarely spreads in the body. However, if left untreated it can grow beneath the skin and into the underlying tissue and bone.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the next most common kind of skin cancer. It has a risk to spread to distant tissue when it is more advanced. For that reason, SCC can become life threatening if it’s not treated, particularly in patients who are immunosuppressed.

Malignant melanoma is the least common skin cancer, but is one of the most dangerous types. And, unfortunately, its incidence is rapidly increasing in Minnesota: by 4% per year, and most notably in adolescents and young adults. We now know that increased use of tanning beds in youth have lead to this increased rate of melanoma. When melanoma is discovered early, it can be cured. If it’s not treated quickly, however, malignant melanoma may spread throughout the body, which can cause death.

how to Recognize skin cancer

It is important to perform self skin exams regularly to watch for new and changing growths - this means look everywhere on the skin, including places that don't see the sun.  You will need to use mirrors to help you, or recruit a partner.

Skin cancers can present in many ways. However, some signs that may be concerning include: red spots that bleed on their own, are sore to the touch, or have thick white scale. Spots that grow quickly should be evaluated. 

Malignant melanoma is usually signaled by a change in the size, shape, or color of an existing mole, or as a new growth on normal skin. Watch for the "ABCDE" warning signs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry—a growth with unmatched halves
  • Border irregularity—ragged or blurred edges
  • Color—a mottled appearance, with shades of tan, brown, and black, sometimes mixed with red, white, or blue
  • Diameter—a growth more than 6 millimeters across (about the size of a pencil eraser), or any unusual increase in size.
  • Evolution - change in a mole over time

Diagnosis and treatment

Skin cancer is diagnosed by a skin biopsy by your dermatologist. A biopsy is a quick procedure that involves numbing the skin and then removing all or part of the growth, then examining it under a microscope. Skin cancers can be treated by a number of methods, depending on the type of cancer, its stage of growth, and its location on your body.  You and your dermatologist will determine a treatment that is appropriate for you.