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The three most common skin cancer types are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma, and the number of Americans who get one or more forms continues to increase. Nearly half of Americans who live to be 65 will develop some type of skin cancer. Almost all of them, if diagnosed and treated early, will be cured. If not, all three skin cancer types can be dangerous, disfiguring, and deadly.
Melanoma: By the Numbers
6: Number of sunburns it takes to double your risk of melanoma
62: Average age of a person diagnosed with melanoma
86: Percent of melanomas caused by exposure to the sun
99: Percent of cases cured with early detection and treatment
87,000: Approximate number of new melanoma cases diagnosed annually
Melanoma is the deadliest of all skin cancer types, yet the cure rate, with early detection and treatment, is 99 percent. Unfortunately, too many people delay treatment, even when they know they have a potentially life-threatening disease. The average age of people diagnosed with melanoma is 62, but it can begin at almost any age.
Melanoma Warning Signs
The distinguishing characteristic of melanoma is uncontrolled growth of cells that produce melanin, which is one of the body’s coloring agents. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black color, and they appear abnormal, even ugly.
The American Academy of Dermatology promotes the A-B-C-D-E method of identifying potential melanomas. If you recognize the signs below or if you notice a change in a mole, see a dermatologist as soon as possible
A—Asymmetry. One-half of the lesion does not match the other half.
B—Border. Ragged, notched, blurred, or otherwise irregular.
C—Color. Not uniform and could include shades of brown, black, and tan, with streaks of red, white, or blue.
D—Diameter. More than six millimeters (about one quarter-inch) when diagnosed, but possibly smaller.
E—Evolving. Change in size, shape, color, or thickness, or beginning to itch, bleed, and form a crust.
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Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal Cell Carcinoma: By the Numbers
0: Percent of basal cell carcinomas that become melanomas
2: BCC is twice as common in men as in women.
p53: The name of a gene that acts as a tumor suppressor
98: Percent of BCC cases cured with early detection and treatment
4,000,000: Number of new BCC cases diagnosed each year in the U.S.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It is a non-melanoma form of the condition, and accounts for about 75 percent of all skin cancer cases.
BCCs are slow-growing, painless, malignant tumors that develop in the lower part of the top layer of skin. They seldom spread, but if left untreated, they can affect surrounding areas and even move into bone tissue.
Who is Susceptible to the Three Skin Cancer Types?
People who spend a lot of time outdoors, those who are fair-skinned, and those who live in areas of the country where there is more sunlight per day. Others in the high-risk group are people with blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, and those who have been overexposed to X-rays and other forms of radiation.
The main cause of BCC is exposure to sunlight. The areas of the body most likely to be affected are the face, ears, neck, scalp, and back.
The Skin Cancer Foundation says there are five warning signs:
- An open sore that bleeds, oozes, or crusts, remains open, and heals, then bleeds again.
- A reddish patch or irritated area.
- A shiny bump or nodule.
- A pink growth.
- A scar-like area.
Other signs to watch for include: an open sore that does not heal, irregularly shaped blood vessels in or around the spot, or a sore that has a depressed area in the middle.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous Cell Carcinoma: By the Numbers
0: Percent of squamous cell carcinomas that become melanomas
3: SCC is three times as common in men as in women
20: Percent of non-melanoma skin cancer that is SCC
95: Percent of BCC cases cured with early detection and treatment
1,000,000: The number of new BCC cases diagnosed each year in the U.S.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is uncontrolled growth of flat squamous cells located in the outer layer of skin.
Middle-aged and older adults are more susceptible to SCC. Other risk factors are a fair complexion, frequent exposure to the sun, a history of working in the sun, early childhood overexposure to the sun, artificial tans from tanning beds, and living in an area of high-intensity sunlight.
The cancer appears as a rough, scaly bump that grows, and the surface of the lesion also may have a flat, reddish patch. It usually occurs on the face, ears, neck, hands, or arms, but can develop elsewhere. Here are four warning signs of SCC:
- Sore that does not heal
- Change in a mole or wart
- Rough, scaly, reddish bump that appears to be growing
- Pain in a skin lesion
This article was originally published in 2017. It is regularly updated.