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Types of Skin Cancer

Every year, an estimated one million cases of skin cancer occur in the U.S., and approximately 8,000 to 9,000 of these cases are terminal.  There are three types of skin cancer "“ basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.  Non-melanoma cancers are generally treatable and rarely fatal, but melanoma carries a disproportionately high mortality rate. 

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, but if it is diagnosed and removed while it is still thin and limited to the outermost skin layer, the prognosis is very good.  The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis and the dermis.  Skin cancer begins in the upper or outer layer of the skin, the epidermis.  In 2005 alone, about 59,580 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma, causing nearly 80 percent of skin cancer deaths. 

Within the three types of skin cancer are subcategories.  Melanomas fall into four types of skin cancer, including superficial spreading melanoma, lentigo maligna, acral lentiginous melanoma and nodular melanoma.  It is important to be able to recognize all types of skin cancer in order to catch them in early stages before the condition has worsened.  People with high risk factors should be especially aware of any developing types of skin cancer.

Skin is often categorized into six risks types, with Types 1 and 2 being at the highest risk for skin cancer "“ people who tan slowly and burn easily.  In addition to skin types, genetics can predispose a person to develop skin cancer themselves if there is a family history.  More studies are being performed to determine genetic markers for melanoma, but about one in every ten patients diagnosed has a family member with a history of the disease.  Aging increases a person's susceptibility to skin cancer because of the cumulative effect combined with a weakened immune response to attack and destroy abnormal cells as efficiently.

The superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma skin cancer, accounting for about 70 percent of all cases.  Traveling along the top layer of the skin for awhile before penetrating deeper, like other classic signs of various types of skin cancer, a patient should recognize the appearance of a flat or slightly raised discolored patch that has irregular borders.  Color of the mole varies and can have areas of tan, brown, black, red, blue or white. 

Eighty percent of non-melanoma types of skin cancer occurs on the upper trunk, the head and the neck, so it is extremely important to use sunscreen liberally at all time, in addition to a hat, shirt and sunglasses, and to avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight when possible.  Skin cancer can take many forms, and a doctor should examine anything suspicious.  Fortunately, the most common types of skin cancer are non-melanoma forms, which often appear as a change in the skin.  Chances of recovery depends most on the stage of the cancer and the type of treatment used to remove the cancer, but treatment options will be influenced by the types of skin cancer, size and location and the patient's general health. 

Skin cancer has become the most common form of cancer in the U.S., and cases of the deadliest types of skin cancer, melanoma, have doubled in the past 30 years.  Prolonged or unprotected exposure to ultraviolet rays can put a person at high risk for developing different types of skin cancer, as well as result in undesired cosmetic appearances, such as wrinkled or discolored skin.