Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It’s very likely that you or someone in your family will develop skin cancer as one in five Americans will get this in the course of their life. Some forms can be life threatening. But if skin cancer is spotted early on it can often be cured before it spreads to other parts of the body.
There are three main types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. BCC and SCC are the most common forms, and rarely spread.
Melanoma develops from melanocytes, the cells that produce the skin pigment that determines our skin color. Even though it accounts for less than 5 percent of skin cancers, melanoma is the cause of most skin cancer deaths.
It is valuable to know the difference between melanoma and harmless moles. Most moles are fine unless they change in size, shape or color. When looking at a mole or skin pigment spots, most doctors recommend the ABCDE method to help determine if it’s melanoma.
A is for Asymmetry
Make sure if the mole was cut in half it would be a mirror image.
B is for Border
If there is an irregular or undefined border it could be a risk.
C is for Coloration
It should not vary in shade, but be a solid color—different shades of brown, blue, red, white and black is a warning sign.
D is for Diameter
The mole or pigment spot should be smaller than the size of a pencil’s eraser. Melanoma is typically greater than a quarter inch across, but it can be smaller.
E is for Evolution
If the mole or spot changes in size, shape or color over time then a doctor should be contacted.
Causes of Skin Cancer
The main cause of skin cancer is over-exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It develops mainly on areas of sun-exposed skin: most often on the face, chest, neck, arms as well as women’s lower legs and men’s backs. But it can also form in surprising areas— palms, beneath fingernails, spaces between toes, under toenails and genital areas.
Other risk factors include a fair complexion, history of sunburns as a child, multiple moles, atypical moles and a family history of skin cancer. Older adults are at a higher risk of developing basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. Melanoma is the most common cancer for 20-29 year-olds.