Types of Skin Cancer

What is Skin Cancer?

Healthy cells in our body grow and then at a prescribed time, the cell replicates and then dies in a process called apoptosis. Cancer occurs when cells abnormally grow and no longer get the “die” message. Skin cancer occurs when the skin cells begin to abnormally grow. Any abnormal growth of skin cells is considered skin cancer, but only two are considered malignant.

30028564 - an image of a skin cancer detection chart.

What are the Types of Skin Cancer?

There are three primary types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and is relatively harmless. This type of skin cancer often appears as red patches, shiny bumps or scars. It is estimated that up to 3.0 million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year. Basal cell carcinoma is usually benign because it rarely metastasizes (spreads) past the original tumor site.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a malignant type of cancer and occurs when upper layers of the skin become mutated and abnormal cells start to grow uncontrollably. Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include open sores or scaly red patches that can also bleed or crust. Squamous cell carcinoma has a raised boarder pattern and a small hole in the middle. It’s been reported that 700,000 cases are diagnosed each year resulting in 2,500 deaths.

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of malignant and potentially fatal skin cancer. Melanomas skin cancer symptoms are bumps or patches that resemble moles and are usually black or brown with irregular borders. However, they can be blue, pink, red, white or even skin-colored. If detected early, melanomas are generally curable. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanomas “develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells…triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.”

The ABCDE’s of Skin Cancer Symptoms

These five keys of skin cancer symptoms can help you recognize skin cancer early.

Asymmetry Moles are usually round in shape. Draw a line through the middle of the mole or lesion on your skin. The two halves should be even or symmetrical. If the mole is not symmetrical this is a sign that the tumor may be malignant.

Border  Non-malignant tumors will typically have a smooth, regular border. The border of an early melanoma will generally be uneven or jagged.

Color A mole has only one color. Melanomas often have color variation of shades of black, brown, and tan. They may also be blue, red and other colors.

Diameter As a rule of thumb, non-malignant skin cancers are smaller than ¼ inch in diameter. Melanomas are usually larger in diameter, so keep an eye on anything that is larger.

Evolving If the mole changes in color, elevation, size, or shape and bleeding, crusting and itching are signs that you should have the mole checked.

Not all cancers fit the ABCDE’s. Other symptoms of skin cancer include: pigmented patches or growths that grow beyond their border, redness, swelling, tenderness, pain or sensitivity in a bump or mole.

It is important to take note of any new skin spots or growths, and consult with your doctor for any moles, freckles, or spots that seem different from the others.

Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine, founder of the Dallas-based functional medicine clinic Living Well Dallas and Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutrition for autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, MTHFR and weight loss.  You can find her book “Cleanse: Detox Your Body, Mind & Spirit” on Amazon here.

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