Skin cancer happens when abnormal skin cells start to grow very quickly, forming a growth or tumor. The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, develops on the skin's surface layer. Another common type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, also occurs on the skin's surface layer. Other types of skin cancer, including malignant melanomas, grow deeper in the skin and body.
Basal cell carcinoma can appear as a flat red patch of dry or scaly skin. It can also appear as a brown or black bump, or can even look like a birthmark.
Squamous cell carcinoma, like basal cell carcinoma, can appear as a flat red patch of dry or scaly skin. It can also appear as a small bump, which may crust over or bleed. In some cases, a squamous cell carcinoma can appear as a brown scaly patch of skin.
Malignant melanomas can appear as a mole that suddenly appears on the skin. In some cases, a malignant melanoma causes an existing mole to grow larger and rapidly. Existing moles may change color or shape. A mole may also remain the same but develop an uneven border.
Certain groups of people are at higher risk for skin cancer. People who are prone to sunburn, people with light complexions, and people with light eyes may be at a higher risk. A family history of the disease may also put a person at increased risk for skin cancer. The other major risk factor, sun exposure, can be controlled by avoiding excess sun and using sun protection when outdoors.
In most cases, skin cancer can be treated very effectively if it's discovered early. Usually, the most effective treatment for skin cancer is removal of the lesion. Some of the skin around the lesion must also be removed, as the cancer cells may be present in that tissue as well. To remove the lesion, the area is fully numbed. A tiny surgical knife is used to remove the cancerous growth. Other treatments may also be used, including cryotherapy -- freezing off the growth -- burning off the growth, and radiation.