Skin Cancer-Types, Symptoms & Risk Factors

Skin Cancer, the abnormal growth of skin cells most often develops on skin exposed to the sun. But this common form of cancer can also occur on areas that are not often exposed to the sun.

There are three major types of skin cancer: Basal cell carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma, and Melanoma.

You can reduce your risk of skin cancer by reducing the or avoiding exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Checking you skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages. Early detection of skin cancer gives you the greatest chance for a successful skin cancer treatment.

Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions. When melanoma occurs in people with dark skin tones, its more likely in the areas not normally exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.


Basal Cell Carcinoma signs and symptoms

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or your face.

Basal cell carcinoma may appear as:

  • A pearly or waxy bump
  • A flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesions

Squamous Cell Carcinoma signs and symptoms

Most often, squamous cell carcinoma occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body, such as face, ears and hands. People with more darker skin tones are more likely to develop squamous on areas that are not often exposed to the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as:

  • A firm, red nodule
  • A flat lesion with a scaly crusted surface.

Melanoma signs and symptoms

Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma most often appears on the face or the trunk of the affected men. In women, the type of skin cancer often develops on the lower legs. In both men and women, melanoma can occur on the skin that hasn’t been exposed to the sun.

Melanoma can affect people of any skin tone. In people with darker skin tones, melanoma tends to occur on the palms or soles, or under the fingernails or toenails.

Melanoma signs include:

  • A large brownish spot with darker speckles.
  • A mole that changes in color, size or feel, or that bleeds.
  • A small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, white, blue, or blue-black.
  • Dark lesions on the palms, soles, fingertips, or toes, or on mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose, vagina or anus.

Signs and symptoms of less common skin cancers

Other, less common types of skin cancer include:

Kaposi Sarcoma: this rare form of skin cancer develops in the skin blood vessels and causes red or purple patches on the skin or mucous membranes.

Kaposi Sarcoma mainly occurs on people with weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS, and in people taking medications to suppress their natural immunity, such as people you’ve undergone organ transplants. Other people with an increased risk of Kaposi Sarcoma include young men living in Africa or older men of Italian or Eastern European Jewish heritage.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel Cell Carcinoma causes firm, shiny nodules that occur on or just beneath the skin and in hair follicles. Merkel cell carcinoma is most often found on the neck, trunk and head.

Sebaceous Gland Carcinoma

This uncommon and aggressive cancer originates in the oil glands in the skin. Sebaceous gland carcinoma-which usually appears as hard, painless nodules- can develop anywhere, but most occur on the eyelid, where they are frequently mistaken for other eyelid problems.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of developing skin cancer includes:

Fair Skin Anyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer. However, having less pigmented (melanin) in your skin provides less protection form damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair, and light-colored eyes, and you freckle or sunburn easily, you’re more likely to develop skin cancer than is a person with a darker skin tone.

A history of sunburns Having had one or more blistering sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risks of developing skin cancer as an adult. Sunburns in adulthood are also a risk factor.

Excessive sun exposure Anyone who spends considerable time in the sun may develop skin cancer, especially if the skin is not protected by sunscreen or clothing.

Sunny or high-altitude climates People who live in sunny, warm climates are exposed to more sunlight than other people who live in colder climates. Living at higher elevations, where the sun is the strongest, also exposes you to more radiation.

Moles People who have many moles or abnormal moles called dysplastic nevi are at increased risk of cancer. These abnormal moles - which often look irregular and generally larger than normal moles - are more likely than others to become cancerous. If you have a history of abnormal moles, watch them regularly for any abnormal changes.

Precancerous skin lesions Having skin lesions known as actinic keratosis can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. These precancerous skin growths typically appear as rough, scaly patches that range in color from brown to dark pink. They are most common on the face, head, and hands of fair-skinned people whose skin has been sun damaged.

A family history of skin cancer If one of your parents or a sibling has had skin cancer, you may have an increased risk of the disease.

A personal history of skin cancer If you developed skin cancer once, you're at risk of developing it again.

A weakened immune system. People with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of developing skin cancer. This includes people living with HIV/AIDS and those taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant.

Exposure to radiation People who received radiation treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and acne may have an increased risk of skin cancer, particularly basal cell carcinoma.

Exposure to certain substances Exposure to certain substances, such as arsenic, may increase your risk of skin cancer.

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