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Skin Cancer

The Most Common Form of Cancer

One in five people over the course of a lifetime and over one million people each year are diagnosed with skin cancer, making it the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Skin cancer refers to the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of skin cells. The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. A rarer but more dangerous skin cancer is melanoma, the leading cause of death from skin disease.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma forms in basal cells that line the epidermis or the top layer of the skin. It is the most common type of skin cancer and most often develops on the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back; the areas most exposed to the sun. People with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue, green, or grey eyes are most at risk for developing basal cell carcinoma, but everyone has some risk. Basal cell carcinoma appears as a small, dome-shaped, pimple like growth that varies in size and shape. In early stages, the growth may appear as a shiny, pink patch and even contain visible blood vessels.

Basal cell carcinoma usually grows very slowly and often doesn’t show up for many years after intense or long-term exposure to the sun. Basal cell carcinoma is a localized destructive tumor, that is left untreated can cause irreversible damage or disfigurement.   While this cancer is the least risky type of skin cancer, early diagnosis and treatment is crucial.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The second most common form of skin cancer is Squamous Cell Carcinoma, a cancer that arises in the squamous cells of the epidermis. Like Basal Cell Carcinoma, most cases appear in the areas of the body that are most exposed to the sun: the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs. Squamous cell carcinoma is mostly seen in people with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue, green, or grey eyes.

Squamous cell carcinoma is caused by prolonged exposure to sunlight or from tanning beds or lamps. While it is usually not life-threatening, it can be more aggressive in some cases. Untreated, it can grow large or spread to other parts of your body, causing serious complications.

Squamous cell carcinoma grows faster than basal cell carcinoma, especially when located around orifices like the eyes or mouth. Any non-healing sore or red, crusted, or scaly patch should be checked out by a dermatologist. More aggressive forms of squamous cell carcinoma can spread to lymph nodes or other internal organs, and left untreated the disease can lead to irreversible skin damage or disfigurement.


Melanoma is the most dangerous and life-threatening form of skin cancer. Ultraviolet or UV radiation can be attributed to about 65% of melanoma cases. Risk of melanoma more than doubles if a person has had five or more blistering sunburns at any age. Melanoma originates in melanocytes, the pigment producing cells of the skin, hair, and eyes. Most melanomas appear as asymmetrical, irregularly bordered, multicolored black or brown spots that continue to grow over time. Some even appear as skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. While sun exposure, number of moles on the skin, skin type, and family history are all factors that can greatly determine a person’s risk, everyone has some risk of developing melanoma. Any suspicious, atypical moles or deep pigmented areas on the skin should be checked out by a dermatologist as soon as possible. If caught early, melanoma is almost 100% curable.

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis is a scaly or crusty skin lesion and is commonly referred to as a precancer. Cumulative sun damage is responsible for almost all actinic keratosis and although most are benign, the development of actinic keratosis on the skin indicates it has incurred sun damage and is at greater risk for developing skin cancer. A biopsy of the tissue will determine if the lesion is cancerous. Georgia Dermatology offers many effective ways to treat actinic keratosis.


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