Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. It’s an abnormal, and uncontrolled, growth of skin cells that develops in areas that are exposed to the sun (though it can form in areas that don’t typically get a lot of sun exposure). Left untreated, these cells can spread to other organs and tissues—why having regular mole checks (every six months to a year is recommended) is critical.
The most common precancerous skin growths or lesions are:
Actinic (or solar) keratosis are small, scaly, crusty growths or lesions that are often pink or red in color. They’re found most often on any areas of skin that have had prolonged exposure to the sun over the years (such as the face, scalp, ears, lips, and the backs of the hands). Left untreated, these can develop into cancer.
Dysplastic nevi (pre-cancerous moles) are atypical moles that resemble melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer). Sometimes dysplastic nevi will develop into melanoma—which is why it’s critical to examine your skin regularly and have regular moles checks with a board-certified dermatologist such as Dr. Dennis Gross (who will remove the dysplastic nevi and have it biopsied.) The earlier these are diagnosed and removed, the less chance of developing melanoma. People who have dysplastic nevi are at increased risk of developing melanoma.
There are different types of skin cancer—all of which should be examined and biopsied by our doctors:
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer in the lowest layer of the skin, called the basal layer. It comes in several varieties and usually looks like raised, waxy pink bumps or a pink patch. It rarely spreads.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the type of skin cancer that affects skin cells in the middle layer of the epidermis. It usually looks like red, scaly, rough skin lesions. It may spread and is dangerous if not removed promptly.
Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer but, left untreated, it can spread and be deadly. It occurs in the skin cells that create pigment, called melanocytes. It can develop in moles or lesions that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, are uneven in color, are larger than a pencil eraser, and have changed over time.
Remember: the earlier you find skin cancer, the easier it is to treat successfully.