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Of all the cancers, skin cancer is the most common. It affects over 1 million Americans every year and it has been estimated that about 50% of all Americans who live up to the age of 65 years and beyond experience skin cancer at least once in their life.

Skin Cancer is the Most Common Type of Cancer

Because of its alarming frequency, it is important to understand about the nature of the disease and recognize its early warning signs.

Skin cancer occurs due to abnormal proliferation of the skin cells. It is of three major types:

  1. Squamous cell carcinoma
  2. Basal cell carcinoma
  3. Melanoma
Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are together referred as non-melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell cancer appears like a reddish nodule which is firm in consistency. It is usually found on the face, around the mouth, ears, neck and upper extremities. Sometimes, it may also appear as a flat, scaly patch with a crusty surface. It is most common in people above 50 years of age and is usually a result of excessive exposure to the harmful ultraviolet radiations of the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma begins as actinic keratosis, a precancerous lesion which may develop into Bowen’s disease, which is cancer in situ. Squamous cell carcinoma is common in light skinned people with a lot of sun exposure. People having blue or green eyes with blonde hair are more susceptible. X- Ray radiation and exposure to chemicals such as Arsenic may also lead to the development of squamous cell carcinoma. Diagnosis is established after a skin biopsy. Almost 95% of patients diagnosed with squamous cell cancer respond well to treatment provided the disease is caught early and treatment is initiated promptly. Otherwise, even though the cancer is slow growing, it may invade other parts of the body.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

According to the American Cancer Society, 75% of all skin cancers are basal cell cancers. It is the slowest growing amongst the three types of skin cancers and rarely spreads beyond its region of origin. It invades the uppermost layer of the skin called as epidermis and usually affects people older than 40 years.

Basal cell cancer is also a result of the harmful ultraviolet radiations of the sun and is usually found in people who spend a lot of time in sun without proper protection. Any skin lesion which bleeds easily or does not heal spontaneously may be basal cell carcinoma. The lesion may be pearly or waxy in appearance and is of slightly different color from the surrounding skin tone.

Basal cell cancer responds well to treatment with less than 1% chance of recurrence after undergoing Moh’s surgery, a treatment where the affected skin is removed until the biopsy is clear of cancer cells. If left untreated, it may slowly invade the surrounding tissues.


It is the most dangerous type of skin cancer which metastasizes early and can be fatal. Almost one American succumbs to melanoma every hour. It is usually found on the face, upper back or back of the neck and arises due to metastatic changes in a simple mole. The mole shows sudden changes in its size and color and develops an irregular border with red, blue, white or black spots which bleed easily.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKena WG. Clinical Oncology. 3rd ed. Orlando, Fl: Churchill Livingstone, 2004:449-452
  • American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2006. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2006
  • Warning signs of melanoma,, accessed on 20 July,2011.
  • Photo courtesy of Cinmarshmellow on Flickr: