In recent years, incidences of skin cancer have been on the rise globally. Skin cancer develops typically on areas of sun-exposed skin, such as the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and the legs in women. But it can also occur on areas that are rarely exposed to sunlight, such as palms, beneath your fingernails or toenails, and genital area. Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions.
There are three major types of skin cancer-basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Currently, the best estimate for the total number of nonmelanoma skin cancers diagnosed annually in the U.S. is 5.4 million- 3.6 million basal cell carcinomas and 1.8 million squamous cell carcinomas annually. The diagnosis and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers in the U.S. increased by 77 percent between 1994 and 2014.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It grows very slowly and is very curable. Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or face, and may appear as a pearly or waxy bump, a flat, a flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion, a bleeding or scabbing sore. On white skin, basal cell carcinoma often looks like a bump that’s skin-colored or pink.
Most often, squamous cell carcinoma occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your face, ears and hands. But it can occur anywhere on the body. It can even occur inside the mouth, on the bottoms of the feet or on the genitals. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on areas that are infrequently exposed to the sun. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as a firm, red nodule, or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface. In general, the squamous cell carcinoma survival rate is very high—when detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. Even if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, it can be effectively treated through a combination of surgery and radiotherapy. Only about 2 percent to 5 percent of squamous cell carcinoma cases grow back or spread. Once squamous cell carcinoma has spread beyond the skin, the five-year survival rate drops to less than 50 percent.
Melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, annual diagnoses of invasive melanoma increased by 31% between 2012 and 2022. An estimated 197,700 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022.
Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma most often appears on the face or the trunk of affected men. In women, this type of cancer most often develops on the lower legs. In both men and women, melanoma can occur on skin that hasn’t been exposed to the sun. When melanoma occurs in people with dark skin tones, it’s more likely to occur in areas not normally exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Melanoma may appear as a large brownish spot with darker speckles, a mole that changes in color, size or feel or that bleeds, a small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, pink, white, blue or blue-black, a painful lesion that itches or burns, a dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus.
According to the American Cancer Society’s estimates, about 7,990 people are expected to die of melanoma in 2023. Across all stages of melanoma, the average five-year survival rate in the U.S. is 93 percent. The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 99 percent. The survival rate falls to 68 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 30 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs. From age 50 on, significantly more men develop melanoma than women. The majority of people who develop melanoma are white men over age 55.
Checking your skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages. Early detection of skin cancer gives you the greatest chance for successful skin cancer treatment. Melanoma can be treated successfully if it is detected early.
Melanoma: The sign of melanoma is often a mole that changes size, shape or color.