Skin cancer (an abnormal growth of skin cells) is the most common type of cancer in the United States. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Although people with lighter skin tones are at a higher risk for skin cancer, it can affect people of all skin tones. Most skin cancers develops as a result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, such as sunlight and tanning beds.

Symptoms

While most likely to occur on the face, neck, and hands, skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body. In people with darker skin tones, it is most likely to develop in areas not normally exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or underneath fingernails and toenails.

Basal cell carcinoma

May appear as:

  • A waxy or pearly bump
  • A sore that does not heal
  • A lesion that looks like a scar

Squamous cell carcinoma

May appear as:

  • A firm, red bump
  • A flat, scaly or crusty lesion

Melanoma

May appear as:

  • A brown or black lesion with speckles or spots
  • A lesion for irregular borders or colors
  • A painful lesion

Treatment

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are generally treated easily if diagnosed early. Melanoma is a more aggressive cancer, more likely to spread to other parts of the body, and more likely to lead to death.

A biopsy is needed to confirm if skin cancer is present. This involves taking a small sample of the suspicious looking skin and having it analyzed at a lab. If the sample is malignant (it tests positive for cancer), treatment options vary based on the type and severity of the cancer.  Some of the more common treatment options are surgery (cutting, scraping, freezing, or lasering the lesion), radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, and biological therapy.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you notice changes in the appearance of your skin, particularly changes in the size, shape, color, or texture of moles, freckles or birth marks, or the appearance of new marks on your skin, you should see your healthcare provider.

People at higher risk of developing skin cancer should visit their dermatologist regularly (once a year, or more frequently if recommended by your provider).

Causes and Prevention

Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Fair skin, light-colored hair and/or light-colored eyes (although those with lighter skin tones are at a higher risk for skin cancer, it can affect people of all skin tones)
  • A family history of skin cancer or atypical moles
  • Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from natural and artificial sunlight
  • A history of severe sunburns
  • A weakened immune system

Tips for preventing skin cancer include:

  • Use broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 every day
  • Limit your exposure to direct sunlight
  • Avoid tanning beds
  • Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, pants, hats, and sunglasses
  • Regularly check your skin for any changes or growths

A helpful guideline is the “ABCDE” Rule. When looking at a mole, birthmark, or spot on your skin, if you answer yes to any of these, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider for a skin check.

A – Asymmetry. Does one part look different than the other?

B – Border Irregularity. Is the border around the spot irregular or uneven?

C – Color. Does it have more than one color or shade?

D – Diameter. Is it larger than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser)?

E – Evolving. Has it changed in the past weeks or months?

 

Rutgers University is recognized as a Skin Smart Campus by The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. For more information, visit http://cinj.org/education/rutgers-university-skin-smart-campus.

Appointment options for healthcare & counseling services. If you are experiencing a medical emergency dial 911 or call RUPD at 848-932-7211