Skin cancer, like other cancers, is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Damaged cells cause mutations that grow into abnormalities found in skin cells, particularly cancerous moles and tumors. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer among humans, with approximately one million Americans diagnosed with this disease every year.

Common skin cancers include squamous cell, basal cell, and melanoma. While treatments for squamous cell and basal cell are typically effective in most people, the same cannot be said about malignant melanoma. This type of skin care can be more difficult to treat; however, early diagnosis can go a long way in increasing the survival rate.

The majority of skin cancers are squamous and basal cell carcinomas. Although these are malignant, the disease is not likely to spread to other parts of the body. That being said, if not treated early and in the appropriate manner, it can lead to skin abnormalities and disfigurement. A small number of skin cancer cases are malignant melanomas. This is an aggressive form of cancer that often spreads to other parts of the body. When not caught early and treated immediately, this type of skin cancer can be fatal.


Risk Factors and Causes

Although anyone can be at risk for getting skin cancer, the risk is greatest among those who have fair skin.  The primary cause of skin cancer is too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation, usually from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps. The longer you are exposed to UV radiation the better chance there is of developing skin cancer, which is why the disease is most common in people age 50 or older.

Here are some of the risk factors of skin cancer:

  • Family history of melanoma
  • Weakened immune system
  • Exposure to large amounts of UV radiation
  • History of severe, blistering sunburn



If you have any of the risk factors above or have had any other form of cancer, you need to become familiar with the most common symptoms. One of the best things you can do is examine your entire body every few months for moles or suspicious growths. If you find anything that looks unnatural, contact your dermatologist without delay.

General warning signs of skin cancer include:

  • An open skin wound that will not heal
  • A change in size, shape, color, or texture of a mole or skin growth

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin care and may have the following characteristics:

  • A change to an existing mole
  • A cluster of firm, dark bumps
  • A small mole with irregularly borders
  • A mole that is larger than a pencil tip eraser



In addition to self-detection, if you suspect skin cancer you can have a dermatologist look over your body. If a physical evaluation shows something out of the norm, a biopsy will be taken. This is the easiest way to determine if you have skin cancer or if the problem is something less serious. In the case of melanoma, additional tests are ordered to rule of possible metastases. This often includes a PET scan, CT scan, and MRI.



There are five stages of non-melanoma skin cancer:

  • Stage 0: Melanoma is localized with non0invasive tumors only above the skin
  • Stage 1: Tumors are beneath the skin but small and slow growing
  • Stage 2: Tumors are larger but still localized and ulcerated
  • Stage 3: Tumors are ulcerated and melanoma is beginning to spread to other parts of the body
  • Stage 4: Advanced melanoma has metastasized throughout the body

The same staging system is used for melanomas, however, there is also a system for categorizing the size of the tumor:

  • Stage Tis: Tumor is local and non-invasive
  • Stage T1a: Tumor is invasive and less than 1 mm thick without ulceration and a slow growth rate
  • Stage T1b: Tumor is less than 1 mm thick
  • Stage T2a: Tumor is 1.01-2.0 mm thick without ulceration
  • Stage T2b: Tumor is 1.01-2.0 mm thick with ulceration
  • Stage T3a: Tumor is 2.01-4.0 thick without ulceration
  • Stage T3b: Tumor is 2.10-4.0 with ulceration
  • Stage T4a: Tumor is thicker than 4.0 mm without ulceration
  • Stage T4b: Th tumor is thicker than 4.0 mm with ulceration



The earlier skin cancer is detected, regardless of the type, the better chance you have of being cured without any additional problems. Skin cancer in later stages often requires surgical removal or “burning” to reduce growth but may also leave scars.  Melanoma skin cancer is much more serious than squamous cell and basal cell. There are many treatment methods that will be considered, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. The protocol that is used is based largely on the type of cancer and stage.


Improving Prognosis

When skin cancer is caught at an early stage, the chances of survival and minimal damage is much greater. Regardless of when the disease is diagnosed, there are treatment options that can improve the chance of long-term survival. In advanced stages of melanoma, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body making treatment is much more detailed. The goal in advanced stages are often to prevent further metastasis and make the person as comfortable as possible.



The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material found on this website is intended to promote and encourage consumer understanding and should not be considered alternative or supplementary medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health or physical condition, seek the advice of a licensed qualified healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor before beginning a new healthcare regimen, undergoing any procedures, or changing current healthcare plans. Seniors and Health does not claim medical representation and assumes no responsibility in the accuracy of the information available on this website.

To learn about other common health concerns among senior, check out our Health and Conditions page; we also provide information on senior care options on our Assisted Living page.

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