Different Types of Skin Cancer
Those of us who are lucky enough to run in the great outdoors are inevitably exposed to more UVB and UVA rays than your average Joe. We just can’t avoid it sometimes in outdoor sports. But sunshine is not all bad, and there are many ways you can protect your skin from everyday UV damage such as wrinkling, aging skin, and most importantly – skin cancer.
Preventing Skin Cancer
You can avoid running between 10 am – 2 pm, the time of day when the sun’s rays are the strongest. When running outdoors, it’s recommended to always lather up any exposed skin in sunscreen or sunblock. If you’re running near an ocean, lake or river and plan on cooling off with a swim after your run, be sure to use a “reef safe” sunblock (one that does not contain oxybenzone, a chemical known to damage and even kill aquatic life). If you’re like me and don’t love covering yourself in goo all of the time, you can also try wearing SPF sun protection clothing! The special material, available in shirts, shorts, pants, and hats, acts as an SPF barrier between the sun and your skin and is made to wick away moisture so you don’t get too sweaty.
And finally, your best protection aside from prevention is early detection. Because of this, it is strongly recommended to get a referral from your doctor to a dermatologist for an annual skin check. If you have fair skin, are prone to freckles or sunburn, use tanning beds, have a family history of skin cancers, or have received an organ transplant, it’s recommended to get a skin check every six months. It’s also a good idea to perform a skin check on yourself, using a mirror to view all areas
Early Warning Signs
All skin cancers begin as precancerous lesions, also known as dysplasia. Precancerous lesions are not cancer but may become cancerous over time. Because of this, it’s very important to always keep an eye out for any skin abnormalities. An easy way to remember what to watch out for is “A-B-C”:
“Asymmetry” – Is the freckle, mole or abnormal bump asymmetrical?
“Border” – Does the border of the freckle, mole or abnormal bump have “scalloped”, jagged or irregular edges?
“Color” – Is the freckle, mole or abnormal bump red, pearly pink, flesh-colored, or a mix of red, brown and black?
The majority of skin cancers are malignant carcinomas, and the most common of these are basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers are malignant, but because they “grow” more slowly and are unlikely to spread to other areas in the body they are considered less aggressive cancers. Don’t let this term fool you, though – these are still dangerous cancers, and can be disfiguring or cause serious damage if left untreated.
A smaller number of skin cancers are known as malignant melanomas. Malignant melanomas are a whole different kettle of fish, and the reason many folks zealously apply sunscreen every day. This type of skin cancer is extremely aggressive and can be fatal in as little as three months if left undetected and untreated.
Below we’ve covered the essential information of the most common skin cancers.
Most Common Skin Cancers
Type: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
- May look like: a flesh-colored, raised, “pearly” bump on the skin, a pink patch of skin, may present as a sore that won’t heal
- Frequently found on: face, head, neck, arms; but also found on chest, stomach, and legs
- Summary: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, and it grows by invading surrounding tissue. If left untreated, it can grow into your nerves and bones – causing serious damage or even disfigurement.
Type: Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
- May look like: a firm red bump or patch of red and scaly or rough skin may present as a sore that won’t heal
- Frequently found on head, hands, lips, ears, neck
- Summary: Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It is normally more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma and can spread to other areas of the body causing damage. It may grow into a large mass if left untreated.
- May look like: an asymmetrical mole, a flat mole with scalloped edges, a large freckle or mole in a mixture of red, black, brown color
- Frequently found on: Anywhere on the body that is exposed to the sun, usually in the form or shape of a mole
- Summary: While the rarer of the three by far, melanoma is the deadliest kind of skin cancer, causing the most fatalities. Melanoma often develops in an existing mole or may appear suddenly as a new abnormally dark spot or large freckle on the skin. The early detection and diagnosis of melanoma are crucial.