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Know the Three Major Skin Cancers

More than 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. Being aware of the risks and warning signs can save your life.

There are three leading types of skin cancer — and ways to tell if you should be concerned.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma begins in skin cells that produce new skin cells. It often appears as a mostly transparent bump on the skin.

This cancer can appear as a skin-colored, pink or pearly white bump. If you have a darker skin tone, it can look darker but still be transparent. You may also see a brown, blue or black lesion, a reddish patch or a white, waxy lesion on the skin with no clear border.

It mostly — but not always — occurs on skin that’s exposed to the sun. Most basal cell carcinomas are thought to be caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Avoiding direct exposure to the sun and using sunscreen helps protect you against basal cell carcinoma.

If you see these signs, you should speak to your primary care provider or a dermatologist.


Melanoma is the most serious skin cancer — but if detected early, it has a 99% five-year survival rate. Melanoma begins in the pigment that gives your skin its color.

It’s thought that long-term exposure to UV rays from sunlight or tanning lamps contribute to the occurrence of melanoma — especially on the arms, back, face and legs. Having just five or more sunburns in your life can double your risk for melanoma.

If you have a mole that changes, developing unusual coloring or uneven borders, or if you develop a new growth or area of pigmentation on your skin, you should show it to your primary care provider or a dermatologist.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the cells that comprise the middle- and outer layers of the skin. It can be aggressive, even if it’s rarely life-threatening.

Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma often results from long-term exposure to UV radiation, either from the sun or tanning beds.

Squamous cell carcinoma may present as a red, solid nodule; a flat sore; a new, raised area on an old scar; a rough patch on the inside of your mouth; or a raised, wart-like sore on the anus or genitals. Any of these signs should mean a consultation with a primary care provider or dermatologist.

Effective Skin Cancer Treatment

Effective treatment for these types of skin cancer is possible, but only with early detection. Without treatment, these cancers can spread to other parts of the body.

A combination of surgery and radiotherapy can effectively fight skin cancers found early enough.

If any portion of your skin changes, speak with your primary care provider or make an appointment with a dermatologist for further evaluation. They can best help you decide if more analysis or treatment may be necessary.

For more information about cancer screening, treatments and services available at Tanner, visit Tanner Cancer Care.

Cancer Care, Tanner Medical Group

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