The four different types of skin cancer and how to prevent them

The four different types of skin cancer and how to prevent them

It's easy to forget to slather on sunscreen and don your sun hat when the weather is gorgeous and fun spring activities beckon. But when you expose your skin to the sun’s rays without protecting it properly, you put yourself at risk for skin damage and even skin cancer.

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells grow abnormally. It most commonly develops on areas of skin that are regularly in the sun. While people who sunburn easily are at a higher risk, skin cancer can affect anyone. There are four main types of skin cancer to be aware of:

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, and it develops most frequently in people with fair skin, though it can also affect those with darker skin. BCC appears as waxy, flesh-colored, pearl-like bumps or pink patches of skin. It's most often found on the head, neck and arms, but it can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen and legs. Lesions may display superficial blood vessels and a central depression. Basal cell carcinoma develops over years of sun exposure or indoor tanning. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential, since BCC can spread into surrounding tissue, nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, looks like a hard red bump, scaly patch or a sore that heals and then reopens. More common in people with light skin, SCC most often appears on areas frequently bare to the sun, like the face, neck, arms, chest, back and rim of the ear. Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to preventing SCC from spreading throughout the body.

Actinic keratosis (AK)

Actinic keratosis reveals itself through dry, scaly patches or spots, which are precancerous growths less than a half-centimeter in diameter. Those with fair skin are most susceptible to contracting it. AK typically shows up later in life (after age 40), since it develops over years of sun exposure. Treatment is important, since AK can develop into squamous cell carcinoma in up to one percent of people afflicted.


Melanoma is the most harmful — and potentially lethal — form of skin cancer. It can develop in an existing mole or show up as a new dark spot. Typically, the mole or spot is asymmetrical with an irregular border and coloration. Early diagnosis and treatment are key.

There are some easy things you can do to help protect your skin against skin cancer. To start, use a physical sunblock with zinc oxide and titanium oxide rather than a chemical sunscreen. Avoid products containing benzophene, homosolate, octymethoxycinnamate and octinoxate. Try to stay in the shade during the day, especially when the sun is at its hottest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

If you're going to be in the sun, apply a physical sunblock and cover up with long sleeves, long pants, UV-blocking sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat. Make sure to reapply sunblock every two hours and/or after swimming or sweating excessively. Avoid tanning beds completely. Regularly examine your skin from head to toe to monitor moles and search for new spots or lesions.

Visit the Goshen Health Cancer Center to learn more about cancer treatment and prevention.


Posted: 4/25/2016 by Goshen Health
Filed under: cancer care

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