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Cancer Institute

skin cancer prevention

Preventing and Detecting Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most commonof all human cancers. It also is one of the most easily preventable.

Three types of skin cancer exist: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. The majority of skin cancers are BCC and SCC, both of which are malignant; however, these two are more easily treated and cause less damage than a melanoma, which can be fatal and spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

The causes of skin cancer vary and can be either environmental or biological. A few of the most common causes include:

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure
  • Use of tanning beds
  • An impaired immune system
  • Extended exposure to high levels of X-rays
  • Contact with certain chemicals (i.e. hydrocarbons or arsenic)

While each potential cause should be avoided by all, there are certain individuals who are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, such as:

  • Those with fair skin, especially those who freckle, burn easily or experience pain in the sun
  • Those with light hair (blond or red in particular) and light (blue or green) eyes
  • Those with certain genetic disorders, such as albinism
  • Those with a family history of melanoma
  • Those who have already been treated for any form of skin cancer
  • Those who experienced any severe sun burns early in life
  • Those with unusual moles, a high number of moles or moles that are large and were present at birth

There are certain warning signs that would suggest skin cancer and should be evaluated by a physician immediately. For each of the three types, be looking for the following symptoms:

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC):
Usually a raised, smooth bump on the head, neck or shoulders
An ulceration (depression in the center of the bump) usually develops and results in bleeding and crusting
Resembles a sore that will not heal

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC):
Usually a red, scaly, thickened patch on skin frequently exposed to sun
An ulceration similar to a BCC may form and cause bleeding and crusting
May develop into a much larger tumor if left untreated.

Malignant Melanomas:
Remember the following to determine a possible melanoma:

A: Asymmetry—One side is not the same as the opposite
B: Border irregularity—Border is inconsistent around the entire mole
C: Color—A mixture of black, tan, brown, blue, red or white
D: Diameter—Any noticeable change in diameter, especially if larger than 6 mm across
E: Evolution—Any change, bleeding, growing or ulceration

Should you notice any of the above listed symptoms, notify your primary care physician or specialist immediately to evaluate the lesion in question and discuss possible treatment options.

To be referred to a dermatologist at West Penn Allegheny Health System, call 412.DOCTORS (412.362.8677).



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