Skin Changes: How to Spot Skin Cancer

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Picture of skin cancerAccording to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, and people with fair skin and light eyes whose skin has a tendency to burn easily in the sun are most susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun's UV rays. Fortunately, most skin cancers can be detected in their early stages since skin tumors are more visible than tumors of the internal organs.

Three types of cancers account for virtually 100% of skin cancers. The nonmelanomatous skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Malignant melanoma is the third, and most deadly, type of skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma is by far the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for 80% of cases. These slow-growing tumors occur most commonly on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun and may take several forms. A raised, reddish, pearly nodule is the most common appearance of basal cell carcinoma, but it may also appear as a pink or red scar or area of irritated skin. Basal cell carcinomas metastasize (spread via the bloodstream or lymphatic channels) very rarely; instead, they grow invasively into surrounding tissues and can cause localized tissue destruction when not completely removed.