Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most commonly occurring type of cancer in the United States. Experts estimate that 40 to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will eventually develop some form of skin cancer. The risk is highest for people who have red or blond hair, light-colored eyes, and fair skin that freckles easily.

The two most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, which accounts for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers, and squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing cancer, found in the base of the outer layer of skin, that rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma, which affects cells in the surface of the skin, also spreads infrequently, although it does so much more often than basal cell carcinoma.

A less common type of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is the most serious form of skin cancer. It spreads quickly and can be fatal. The number of people with melanoma has more than doubled in the United States since about 1980, giving melanoma the fastest-growing incidence rate of all cancers. Melanoma begins in skin cells known as melanocytes, which produce melanin, the pigment

Warning Signs of Malignant Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious and dangerous form of skin cancer. It quickly spreads to other parts of the body and can be fatal. The incidence of melanoma is increasing faster than any other type of cancer in the United States. The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Melanoma also can appear as a new black, blue-black, or red-bordered mole. Learn the warning signs of malignant melanoma so you can detect any changes in a mole early. Think of the letters "ABCD" to help you remember what to look for. (For pictures of suspicious moles, see page 92.)

  • A—Asymmetry. Half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • B—Border. The mole's edges are often ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular in outline. The pigment (color) may spread into the surrounding skin.
  • C—Color. The color is typically uneven. Multiple colors—black, brown, tan, gray, red, pink, or blue—may be present.
  • D—Diameter. The mole usually increases in size. Melanomas are typically larger than a pencil eraser (half an inch).

Melanomas vary greatly in appearance. Some have all of the above features; others may have only one or two. The most important thing to remember is to tell your doctor about any change you see in a mole as soon as possible so he or she can make a definite diagnosis. When detected and treated early, melanoma can be cured before it has a chance to grow and spread to other parts of the body.

10 Ways To Fight Off Cancer

10 Ways To Fight Off Cancer

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