Main | Treatment Types | What to Expect
By far the most important cause of skin cancer is sun exposure. Avoid excessive sun exposure, and especially avoid a severe, blistering sunburn. When you must be in the sun, use a sunblock with an SPF of at least 15. The products with a higher SPF can block a bit more ultraviolet, but only until they wear off or wash off. If you swim, or perspire, or towel off, renew your sunblock for protection.
There are two main kinds of skin cancers: basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. These have different appearances and your dermatologist can help make an accurate diagnosis. A biopsy is always recommended. Basal cell cancers grow more slowly and can invade deeply, but they almost never spread through the lymph nodes or bloodstream. Squamous cancers tend to grow more quickly, and they sometimes do spread.
Another serious type of skin cancer is melanoma. Melanoma is more likely to spread than other skin cancers, and requires much more aggressive treatment. You should see your doctor promptly if you have any of the classic signs of melanoma: a new or changing skin blemish that is bluish or black, that has irregular edges, that has patchy coloration, or that has inflammation, crusting or bleeding. Melanoma is always treated by surgery.
Finally, Merkel cell carcinoma is a rarer form of skin cancer, and it has a high propensity for spread as well. Merkel cell requires aggressive local treatment, and if it has spread, will require systemic therapy.
Skin cancers occur mostly on areas that have had sun exposure. The face, ears, neck, and hands are common places.