Skin cancer is an umbrella term for various malignant skin diseases. The most common types of skin cancer are:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer and can be treated very well. It begins in the deep basal cell layer of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin). Exposure to the sun is the greatest risk factor for developing this type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinomas may differ in appearance but usually consist of raised, pearly nodules.
This type of skin cancer generally does not metastasize and it is therefore very rare that a patient dies from basal cell carcinoma. However, this type of skin cancer does need to be treated because it does not spontaneously go away on its own and may continue to grow. There are various treatment options.
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Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma develops in the outer layer of the skin. As in basal cell carcinoma, exposure to the sun is a factor that plays an important role in the development of this type of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas often appear as persisting rough scaly spots on the skin called actinic keratoses.
A squamous cell carcinoma also often appears as a rough bump on the skin that sometimes grows bigger. Sometimes it looks like a small wound that does not heal.
Squamous cell carcinoma can be treated by surgical removal (excision) and in some cases by radiation (radiotherapy). Squamous cell carcinoma can reoccur after treatment. As it can also spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body, it is essential to regularly check the skin after treatment.
Moles are pigment cells (melanocytes) that are clustered together on a spot. Melanoma occurs when melanocytes become malignant. A melanoma can occur anywhere on the body. It can develop from an existing mole, or appear as a new lesion. Any change in the shape, size, or colour of a mole – or the sudden appearance of a new dark brown or black mole – may be a sign of melanoma.
There are various risk factors for developing melanoma. As in basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, exposure to the sun is a major risk factor. Other factors are a family history of melanoma and having many (atypical) moles.
Melanomas always need to be surgically removed as there is a risk that they may metastasize. The thinner the melanoma, the lower the risk of it spreading to other parts of the body.
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