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An Overview of Skin Cancer, Its Types, Risk Factors, and Treatment

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Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. This type of cancer usually begins in the form a tumor which most of the time these tumors are benign and do not spread. Three major types of skin cancer, from benign to malignant are, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. People who have lighter skin are prone to easily acquire skin cancer as opposed to someone with darker skin. Even though the risk is higher it does not necessarily mean that they will get skin cancer. UV rays are the most common risk factors for skin cancer. Making sure one wears sunblock whenever they will spend time out in the sun is an easy and one of the best ways to protect your skin from these cancers. Some people like to go tanning which can be dangerous because when the rays reach deep layers of the epidermis it will create more melanin appearing as if it were a tan but can sometimes be deceiving and in reality, be cancer. Diagnosing cancer can sometimes be hard but there are certain ways to be able to detect at home if there is a slight possibility one might have cancer. Early detection key is called the ABCD rule. A stands for asymmetry; the pigmentated areas do not match. B stands for border; there are indentations. C stands for color; contains several colors not only one. D stands for diameter; larger than 6mm. If one has a mole who has all ABC and D, it might mean that it is cancerous, and one should contact their physician.

Common Types of Skin Cancer

BCCs are tumors that look like lesions on the skin which arise in the deepest layer of the epidermis. BCC almost never spreads and usually just stay as benign tumors, but they should be taken seriously because it is possible that sometimes BCC can spread throughout the body and become life threatening. Squamous Cell Carcinoma tends to look like small burns on the skin. It’s made of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells from the epidermis squamous layer. SCCs tend to look like open sores and can be anywhere on the body including lips, scalp and neck. Melanoma is the most malignant skin cancer but also the least common. It is called melanoma because it begins in the melanocytes. It can develop anywhere is the skin that has exposure to UV light but are most likely to be seen first on the chest in men and on legs of women. People who are dark skin are less common to acquire it just like any other skin cancer, but they are the ones who are most likely to acquire melanoma on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the nail. What is most interesting is that you are able to find melanoma on parts such as the eyes, mouth, genitals, and anal area. It does spread more than BCC and SCC if not caught on time. That’s why it is important to know and use the ABCD rule.

Risk Factors & Prevention

There are many risk factors that contribute to skin cancer. Most common risk factor is UV rays like tanning lamps and even a lot of exposure to the sun. Sunlight damages genes in the skin cells that lead to cancer. Our body required Vitamin D which sometimes can be safer by orally intaking it. That does not mean that the sun will give everyone skin cancer. Sunscreen protects the skin when we are outdoors for a long period of time. For tanning lamps maybe making sure to not tan often and even reduced how high the exposure is. Living in an area where the sun is out all year long you have a higher risk to get skin cancer for example Arizona state has a higher percentage of cases with skin cancer as opposed to Minnesota. Individuals who have darker skin color have more melanin which helps protect against UV radiation which is a good thing, but it does not necessarily mean that they are completely protected from skin cancer. Someone who burns easily or has many moles have a higher chance of exposure to skin cancer. Gender also plays an interesting fact when it comes to who has a higher risk of acquiring BCC. Men are usually the ones who are most at risk as opposed to women and are twice as likely to have SCC. Arsenic is a chemical which is usually used to make some insecticides and people who have exposure to this have a higher risk. Such as labor workers which spend most of their time on the sun can be affected by BCC, SCC, and melanoma. Safest way to be able to prevent or lower the risk of getting skin cancer is to seek shade when possible and prevent getting sunburned by using sunscreen which has a broad spectrum of UVB and UVA with 15 SPF or higher. Examining yourself at home is an easy way to do so as well by using the ABCD rule.


If caught early SCC are curable and cause minimal damage but if it is left untreated it can lead to death. SCC may spread metastasize to local lymph nodes, distant tissues and organs and can become life-threatening. Any physician then takes a sample which is then examined and confirms if it’s cancer or not. The process to remove SCC can be done within a day if it is caught on time. Surgical procedures are the standard way to remove skin cancer tumors. Excisional surgery is usually when a physician removes the tumor cutting around it and usually cuts a piece of healthy skin just to make sure that cancerous cells are not around that will spread out. One interesting way of treating skin cancer tumors is by cryosurgery. In this procedure the tumor tissue is frozen, and it is done by using nitrogen liquid. It is set on for a while and then when the tumor becomes crusted it easily falls off within weeks. This process doesn’t include any medication, anesthesia, or any bleeding but the patient usually feels some stinging on the skin. Even though this method is not painful and seems like the easiest way many physicians tend to repeat the process because they want to make sure that the tumor has been eliminated. Between these two treatments a surgical procedure might be the most effective since the physician is removing the whole tumor and is observing the process while doing so as opposed to the nitrogen liquid the process occurs at home takes about 5 weeks and may not always reach all the tumor, so some cells might still be on the skin but not be seen.

Future treatments

Skin cancer is currently treated by laser surgery, surgical procedure, and even nitrogen liquid removal. Recently there have been new methods that are being implied. For instance, immunotherapy, which consists of the immune system attacking melanoma cells. It is currently being used but researchers are trying to develop this drug to be more effective. Researchers believe that by combining two methods of therapy for example nitrogen liquid and pembrolizumab can be more effective and help the patient from not being able to develop skin cancer again. Melanoma vaccines are being studied. Vaccines are currently being used to help prevent diseases like measles and polio, so it is to believe that it might be able to prevent cells from become malignant cancers by killing melanoma cells and preventing melanoma cancer. The difference would be that melanoma vaccines would be used to treat patients who already have melanoma not to prevent it. These vaccines are being studied and researchers are hoping that it will be an effective method.


Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States but if often seen as unimportant compared to other cancers. Even though, most diagnosed cancers are benign if left untreated they can be malignant. ABCD rule is the best way for early detection. Detecting a cancer early can help treat the tumor more easily and it may be more effective to not come back. Skin cancer is easy to prevent. Wearing sunscreen when being outdoors and also reducing the time in tanning beds. What I found interesting was the way that it can be treated. Since skin cancer is on the dermis it makes since that using nitrogen liquid to freeze the tumor helps to remove it. But it also concerns me because the removal happens within weeks which may freeze all the tumor or might leave some cells on the skin that will later develop again. By implementing a vaccine, which is being researched, can help this type of method to be more effective.


  • American Cancer Society. (2010). Overview: Skin Cancer – Basal and Squamous Cell.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment.” WebMD, WebMD, carcinoma.
  • “Skin Cancer Foundation.” Prevention Guidelines –,
  • “Skin Cancer Foundation.” Prevention Guidelines –,
  • “What Is Melanoma Skin Cancer?” American Cancer Society,

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