Skin cancer is the most common form of all cancers. Roughly 3 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year alone. At SkinCare Physicians, we are experienced specialists in identifying skin cancer and are dedicated to providing effective, appropriate skin cancer treatment for our Boston patients. An important first step in fighting skin cancer is learning where on your body to watch for it and what signs to look for.
To schedule your skin cancer screening or learn about skin cancer treatments at our Boston center, request a consultation online or call our office at (617) 731-1600 to schedule an appointment.
The 3 most common types of skin cancer are:
These names come from the name of the type of cell that becomes cancerous, a basal cell, squamous cell, or a melanocyte.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of all cancers in the United States. It accounts for approximately 75% of all skin cancers and of the 3 skin cancers listed above, has the best prognosis. Although they are typically seen in the sun-exposed areas of fair-skinned, older adults, basal cell carcinomas are being seen more and more frequently in the younger population. Basal cells line the base, or bottom, of the uppermost layer of skin, the epidermis. When one of these cells is damaged (by exposure to the sun or other forms of radiation) and begins to grow and replicate much more rapidly than it normally does, it is called a basal cell carcinoma.
Basal cell carcinomas generally start at one particular spot and grow, very slowly, out and downward in the skin. The true size and extent of skin cancers cannot be fully appreciated by simply looking at the surface of the skin. In fact, the skin cancer has usually been growing for several months to years beneath the skin before it surfaces and can be seen by the naked eye. Only under microscopic examination is it possible to determine the extent of the tumor. If the tumor is very small, the biopsy may remove most of the skin cancer and the skin may appear very normal on the surface. Unfortunately, there are usually tumor cells beneath this normal appearing skin that are continuing to replicate and grow. On the other hand, some basal cell carcinomas may be quite large. Although it is extremely unusual for a basal cell carcinoma to metastasize, if left untreated, these tumors will continue to grow to very large sizes and may invade bone and other tissues beneath the skin.
Squamous cell carcinomas, especially when they are larger than 2 cm in width, can be a more serious disease than basal cell carcinomas. The normal squamous cells are located in the upper and middle part of the most superficial layer of skin, the epidermis, and tend to be more aggressive when they become cancerous. These skin cancers usually grow more quickly, are more likely to invade structures beneath the skin, and may metastasize to other parts of the body. Still, only approximately 5% of squamous cell carcinomas actually do metastasize, most often to local lymph nodes. Clinically, squamous cell carcinomas usually appear as rough scaly red spots on the skin. Unfortunately, as with basal cell carcinomas, it is very difficult to judge the size and extent of the skin cancer by simply looking at the skin surface. Skin cancers often grow under what appears to be normal skin.
This is a more serious form of skin cancer. Malignant melanoma generally appears as a brown or black spot, with shades of red or purple in it. They may arise on their own or develop in a pre-existing mole. Melanoma is not often treated with the microscopically controlled or Mohs surgery. These skin cancers are generally removed and sent to a local dermatopathology office for evaluation with permanent paraffin (wax) sections.
For more information, visit our Skin Cancer Evaluation & Treatment page.