How Well Do You Know Your ABCs?


May is Skin Cancer Awareness month.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States…[and] over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.”   Since Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) is responsible for 90% of all skin cancers, taking preventative measures decreases your risk factor for this potentially deadly disease.  Here’s what skin cancer is, the different types, what to look out for and guidelines to prevent it.

About Skin Cancer

Skin cancer happens when DNA becomes irreversibly damaged, giving way to the growth of abnormal skin cells that are capable of invading and destroying surrounding normal skin cells and tissues. When the damaged cells multiply, a visible tumor is typically formed.

The difference between a benign tumor and a malignant tumor is that benign tumors are non cancerous, they won’t usually grow back when removed, and the cells do not invade the surrounding tissue, whereas malignant tumors are cancerous,  can grow back after they have been removed, and they invade tissues, organs and metastasize (invades surrounding tissue).

Types of Skin Cancer



Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer because of its ability to metastasize and spread to lymph nodes, blood, distant tissues and organ systems.  If it is detected and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it’s left untreated, it can often be fatal.


Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

This is the most common form of skin cancer in the U.S.  It can manifest itself like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars, or a brown or black lesion that could be mistaken for a mole.  Considered to be the most benign form of skin cancer as it grows the slowest and is the least likely to metastasize, removal can lead to scarring or disfiguring.


Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous Cell Carcinoma chiefly affects the superficial layers of the epidermis (top layer of the skin).  This type of skin cancer is characterized by a red, rough or flaky appearance and causes the skin to thicken.  It is most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs.  97% of SCC does not spread, however if metastasis occurs, scarring, disfigurement or death is probable.


Actinic Keratosis (AK)

Actinic keratosis can be a precursor to skin cancer that if left untreated, can develop into SCCs.  The appearance of AK is rough and scaly, and they can be tan, red, pink or flesh-colored.  Studies have shown that 60% of squamous cell carcinomas began as actinic keratosis.


ABCDEs of Melanoma

Asymmetry  If you draw a line through this mole, the two halves will not match.

Border The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven, irregular, scalloped or notched.

Color  Coloring varies from one area to another- different shades if brown, tan, or black- and it can become red, blue or some other color.

Diameter  Melanomas are usually larger than the size of the eraser on your pencil ( ¼ inch or 6mm) but they can be smaller when first detected.

Evolution  Any changes in size, shape, color, elevation or new symptoms such as bleeding itching or crusting.


Prevention Guidelines

  • Use broad spectrum sunscreen every day (SPF 15 or higher) and reapply every 2 hours or so, especially when outside
  • Seek shade, if possible, between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Do not burn
  • Avoid UV tanning and UV tanning booths
  • Wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses
  • Conduct yearly exams with a dermatologist and self-exam

I hope this post was helpful and remember: when in doubt, have it checked out!  It’s better to be safe than putting your life in jeopardy.


Disclaimer: The contents on this website, and any related links, are provided for general informational purposes and should NOT be considered medical advice. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here. Please consult a healthcare provider if you have any questions about a particular health condition.