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APR 29th 2014

3 Types Of Skin Cancer And Their Symptoms

APR 29th 2014
3 Types Of Skin Cancer And Their Symptoms

Since May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month – and we’re already gearing up for the heat and UV rays of summer – now is the perfect time to get a better understanding for the three main types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma skin cancer and squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer.

Here’s an overview of the three skin cancer types, the major risk factors and symptoms for the most common of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.


Melanoma starts in pigment cells as a melanocyte (picture below from the National Cancer Institute), usually within the skin. It can develop on any skin surface – usually it’s the shoulders, hips, head or neck for men, and shoulders, hips and lower legs for women. It’s very rare in dark-skinned people: when these people contract melanoma, it’s usually found under fingernails or toenails, on the soles of the feet or the palms of the hands.

skin cancer types and symptoms

Melanoma is the most likely skin cancer to spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for more than 76,000 skin cancer cases this year.

Like all skin cancers, the top risk factors for melanoma are UV radiation (sunlight, tanning and burning), personal or family history of skin cancer, fair coloring, and immunosuppressant drugs.

However, melanoma also has some unique risk factors, including:

  • More than 50 common moles. Normal moles are usually smaller than a pea, smooth, and a single color (brown or pink). However, if you have more than 50, you may be at a higher risk for developing cancer.
  • Dysplastic nevus. This is a large, non-cancerous mole that has a higher risk of turning into skin cancer. It’s usually pebbly-textured and larger than a common mole (wider than a pea, longer than a peanut) and may be a mixture of several colors, from dark brown to pink. Doctors will remove this type of mole if it appears to be a risk.

Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cancer

According to the ACS, more than 3.5 million cases of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma cancers are diagnosed every year in the United States.

Basal cell skin cancer attacks the basal cell layer of the skin, and usually occurs in skin that has been exposed to the sun (the face is the most common location).

Squamous cell skin cancer attacks the squamous cells at the base of the top layer of skin, and is usually found in places not exposed to the sun (legs and feet). Squamous cell cancer is the most common type of cancer in dark-skinned people.

Besides the common skin cancer risk factors, the following things may also increase your risk of contracting one of these types of skin cancer:

  • Skin inflammation (including scars, ulcers and burns).
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Exposure to arsenic.

Squamous skin cell cancer may also be caused by actinic keratosis – a flat, peeling skin growth that may turn into cancer, and certain types of HPV (human papillomavirus) infection.

These are some of the skin symptoms for basal skin cell cancer and squamous skin cell cancer:

  • Waxy, pale, shiny, smooth lumps.
  • Firm, red lumps.
  • Bleeding sores or lumps that develop scabs or crusts.
  • Dry, scaly flat red spots that itch.
  • Rough, scaly red or brown patches.

The “ABCDE” test, courtesy of the National Cancer Institute, can help you determine whether or not you have a dangerous mole:

  • Asymmetry: The mole is an irregular shape.
  • Border irregularities: There isn’t a clean line between the edge of the mole and the skin – the outline of the mole may be notched, ragged or blurred.
  • Color mixture: The mole is more than one color: often, a mixture of black, brown and tan. Sometimes, blue, pink, red, gray or white may be present.
  • Diameter increases: The mole is growing measurably – usually to a size larger than a pea.
  • Evolving characteristics: The mole looks different now than it did a few weeks or months ago.

Please keep in mind – skin cancer often does not hurt. And, please remember to make sure you’re checking out your skin and moles regularly, and staying safe and out of the sun this summer.

For more information about skin cancer and helpful prevention tips, click to read our article here.

(Images via the National Cancer Institute and South Jersey Local News.)