Dr. Norman Levine, MD, is a dermatologist in active practice in Tucson, Arizona. He has authored four books about skin health and dermatology therapy and contributed to hundreds of articles, several book chapters, and even a CD-ROM. Dr. Levine is a reviewer of dermatological cases for Physicians' Review Network.
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Skin cancer is a common, low-grade cancerous (malignant) growth of the skin. It starts from cells that begin as normal skin cells and transform into those with the potential to reproduce in an out-of-control manner. Unlike other cancers, the vast majority of skin cancers have no potential to spread to other parts of the body (metastasize) and threaten your life.
There are two major forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (the most common variety) and squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common type). Melanoma is also a form of skin cancer, but is far less common, though more deadly, than the other two varieties.
What are the risk factors for skin cancer?
The most common risk factors for skin cancer are:
Ultraviolet light exposure, either from the sun or from tanning beds. Fair-skinned individuals with a history of repeated sunburns, those with hazel or blue eyes, and people with blond or red hair are particularly vulnerable. The problem is worse in areas of high altitude or near the equator where sunlight and UV exposure are more intense.
Chronically-suppressed immune system (immunosuppression) from underlying diseases such as HIV infection or cancer, or from some medications such as prednisone or chemotherapy.
Exposure to ionizing radiation (X-rays) or chemicals known to predispose to cancer such as arsenic.
Certain types of wart virus infections.
People who have a history of one skin cancer have a 50% chance of developing a second one in the next 5 years.
BCC is the most common type of skin cancer and has a predilection for sun-exposed skin. Tumors may appear as a pearly or waxy bumps usually with visible blood vessels (nodular BCC), or as a flat scaly reddish patch (superficial BCC) with a brown border, or as a hard or scar-like lesion (sclerosing BCC). Frequently BCCs can be itchy, often bleed, or in more advanced cases, ulcerate.