Skin cancers are the commonest form of cancer. The incidence of skin cancers has been increasing over the years. It is worthwhile knowing something about skin cancers since its prognosis is much different from most other cancers.

There are three types of skin cancers: basal cell (BCC), squamous cell (SCC) and malignant melanoma. There is an increased incidence with sun exposure. BCC are the most common form of skin cancer. It most commonly occurs on the face, but can occur anywhere on the body, most commonly on sun exposed areas. They are often described as slightly raised with a pearly appearance, sometimes with tiny blood vessels on them (telangectasia). Sometimes they can bleed or be a small ulcerated lesion that fails to heal.

SCC can look very similar to BCC except that they are more common on the lips and ears but also can appear anywhere on the body. They are also more common in heavy drinkers and smokers.

Malignant melanomas are well-known as the “mole” that changes or was never there before. They can often be almost black (or black) and can sometimes have some blue and red in them. They can be located anywhere.

The prognosis is very different for each of these lesions. BCC never spread so in many ways, it is unfortunate that they are given the name, “cancer”. The only treatment that is required is to excise (cut them out) with a very small margin of normal skin.

SCC at an early stage rarely spread and can be excised with a slightly wider margin. In their more advanced state, they can spread to lymph nodes.

Malignant melanomas differ in that they can spread to any part of the body, however, spread to the lymph nodes is often the first site of spread. It is possible to predict the likelihood of spread based on the depth of invasion of the melanoma. The more superficial the lesion, the less likely it is to spread. Most melanomas are caught at a very early stage and should not cause undo anxiety. In melanomas that are slightly deeper, it is possible to do a sentinel node biopsy (a small amount of radioactive marker is injected into the lesion and then one small lymph node is removed) and that has a high predictability to determine if the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes.

It can be very hard for the lay person to determine if they have a skin cancer. Essentially any new or irregular skin lesion should be shown to your doctor. An experienced plastic surgeon or dermatologist can often tell if the lesion should be removed for biopsy. This is quickly and easily done in the office under local anesthetic.