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Skin cancer, like other forms of cancer, results from the unrestrained growth and division of cells. Perhaps because of our love for the sun, skin cancer is being reported more frequently every year. In fact, it is now the most common form of cancer.
Skin cancer is categorized as one of two general types, melanoma and non-melanoma. Both types are principally caused by excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays along with a genetic predisposition, and each type can be deadly. People who have light skin, blue eyes and light hair, such as red or blond are more predisposed to developing skin cancer.
There are four types of melanoma and two common types of non-melanoma cancer. The four types of melanoma are classified according to their respective growth patterns. They are superficial spreading melanoma (SSM), nodular melanoma (NM), acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), and lentigo maligna melanoma (LMM).
The two common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). These types are the most common skin cancers, and BCC occurs more frequently than SCC. Although BCC and SCC are often treatable, malignant melanoma has a fatality rate unparalleled by either non-melanoma type. The types of skin cancer vary with regard to their cells of origination and the clinical presentation.
Check your skin monthly, using a full body mirror when necessary, to look for abnormalities that may include: spots and sores that itch, crust or bleed; open sores that do not heal within three weeks; and moles or beauty marks that change color or texture, have an irregular shape, are bigger than the size of a pencil eraser or that appear for the first time after age 21.
The most effective way to remove suspicious growths, typically employed for treating recurring tumors and those around the facial area, is Mohs micrographic surgery. This is an outpatient procedure in which thin layers of skin are removed one by one and immediately viewed under a microscope until all tumor tissue is gone.
Growths may also be removed with scalpels, cauterized, frozen off or destroyed with radiation, lasers, strong lights or topical medications. In the rare instances when basal cell carcinoma spreads and can’t be excised, the medication vismodegib (Erivedge) can be taken in capsule form.