What is Skin Cancer?

Mature man with silver hair wearing blue long sleeves

May 12, 2017

Skin cancer is cancer that affects the body’s largest organ, the skin. There are three common types of skin cancer, Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma. There are also a variety of less common, but dangerous skin cancers such as Merkel Cell Carcinoma, Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans and Atypical Fibroxanthoma. More than one out of every three new cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer. Skin cancer cases are rising every year and are not projected to slow down any time soon. It is important to be educated in the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and to see a dermatologist if you see any suspicious moles or spots on your body.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most frequently occurring form of skin cancer. They are found in the basal layer of the skin, which is the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). They often look like open sores, irregular red patches, or shiny bumps. The main cause of BCCs is cumulative sun exposure and there also may be a genetic predisposition in some patients. People of all ages can be affected by BCC. They almost never spread past the original tumor size, but need to be removed as soon as confirmed by a biopsy. Over four million cases of BCC are diagnosed in the United States alone each year.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. These cancer cells are found in most layers of the skin’s epidermis. They commonly look like scaly red patches, open sores, or warts, and they may look crusty and can even bleed. This cancer is mainly caused by cumulative UV sun exposure, including tanning beds. If not treated immediately after detection, they can become disfiguring and even deadly. Over a million SCCs are diagnosed each year and an estimated 8,800 people are killed by the disease.


Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It is most often caused by UV exposure. The growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to the skin cells triggers mutations that lead the cells to multiply at a rapid pace and form malignant tumors. They most often resemble moles and can even develop from moles. The majority are black or brown, but can also vary in color. People who burn often when exposed to the sun are at an increased risk to develop this type of cancer. Melanoma kills about 10,000 people in the United States each year. In most cases, Melanoma can be removed by a doctor on an out-patient basis. If it has metastasized, however, chemotherapy and alternate treatment methods should be considered.

Can Skin Cancer be Prevented?

The risk for skin cancer can be prevented and even removed if proper precautions are used to protect the skin. Limiting sun exposure, never tanning in tanning beds, covering up while in the sun, wearing a wide brimmed hat, and daily application of a broad-spectrum sunscreen are the best ways to protect yourself from skin cancer. Most of the damage the sun causes to skin is by completing daily activities such as driving to work, walking the dog, and getting the mail. Many people only remember sun protection when at the beach or spending the day outside, but it is just as important to remember sun screen and other protection techniques every day of the year, even if you’ll only be in the sun for a few minutes. It is also important to schedule an annual skin check with a dermatologist to be evaluated for suspicious spots and to detect skin cancer early.

Speak to one of our staff members at Torrey Pines Dermatology & Laser Center to find the best sunscreen for your activity level and skin type, and call our office today to schedule your annual skin check!

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