Types of skin cancer are named for the specific types of skin cells which mutate, due to UV exposure or natural decay, and begin to reproduce improperly and form cancerous tumors.
Different types of skin cells make up different layers of the skin. The most common cancers are formed in squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes, forming squamous or basal cell carcinoma, or melanoma. Squamous cells are the top layer of the epidermis, the round, flat cells which make up the surface of the skin. Underneath are basal cells which make up the rest of the epidermis, and between the dermis and epidermis are melanocytes, which are the cells which pigment the skin.
For purposes of treatment, skin cancer is separated into two main groups. These are melanoma and nonmelanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and the most common forms of nonmelanoma skin cancers are squamous and basal cell carcinoma. There are other, rarer forms of skin cancer as well, which fall under the nonmelanoma category.
For the most part, methods of prevention are the same for both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer. Overexposure to UV radiation is a major risk factor, and the sun should be avoided during its midday peak. Protective clothing, or failing that, sunscreen should be worn when out in the sun even under light cloud cover. Getting even one blistering sunburn is a risk factor for skin cancer. Tanning beds are a risk factor specifically for melanoma, even with minimal usage, so you should strictly abstain from their use. If you insist on getting a light tan, doing so under the sun is healthier because melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
Nonmelanoma skin cancer can be slightly more difficult to detect, because it may present itself as a rash, wound, or lump that doesn’t properly heal. These irregularities should be looked at by a doctor when detected, and you should regularly check your skin, including your scalp and hard to reach places, as skin cancer is usually painless. Most of the time, it appears on the face or in body parts exposed to sunlight..
Melanoma often appears as a mole-like growth, and existing moles can turn into melanoma. Moles, or nevi, are common benign growths which stem from melanocytes. If you have an unusually high number of nevi or multiple dysplastic nevi, or irregularly-shaped moles, you should take special care to check them for changes. A change in the size, color, shape, or surrounding skin of a mole can signify melanoma.
Both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer should be treated as soon as possible to avoid metastasis. Even in earlier stages of development, especially with melanoma, your doctor may need to remove nearby lymph nodes, as skin cancer tends to spread through the lymphatic system. In early stages, surgery can eliminate a skin tumor, although with melanoma sometimes enough surrounding tissue must be taken that a skin graft is necessary. If additional tumors form in other parts of the body due to metastasis, chemotherapy and additional surgeries may be necessary. This is a particularly serious situation if melanoma spreads.
Different types of skin cancer have a different appearance and slightly different treatments, but early detection is the key to effectively curing any skin cancer.