Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a broad term for different types of tumours that affect the skin. There are three main types of skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Other types of skin cancer like Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) and Kaposi sarcoma are not common, however Kaposi sarcoma is often seen in South Africa due to its tendency to affect HIV/AIDS patients.

The skin is made up of three layers. A bottom subcutaneous layer with dermis above it. The dermis contains all the blood and lymph vessels, hair follicles and sweat glands. Above the dermis is the epidermis which converts living cells from its deeper basal layer into dead, protein rich skin cells. It is these dead skin cells that we see on the surface of our skin.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

This is the most common type of skin cancer. It affects the deeper layer of the epidermis and often looks like pearly, translucent bumps on the skin.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This type of skin cancer affects the outer layer of the epidermis. It usually appears patchy with scaly dry skin containing tiny red bumps or nodules.

Both these types of skin cancer are known as non-melanoma cancer. They are easier to treat than malignant melanomas but if left untreated, they can be just as dangerous as a malignant melanoma.

Malignant Melanoma

This is not the most common type of skin cancer but the incidence of melanomas are increasing globally. A melanoma affects the skin cells that produce our skin pigment, the melanocyte. Melanomas appear like moles but are rapidly growing and have odd shapes. It is the more dangerous form of skin cancer from the other types above as it is a highly aggressive malignancy and treatment is not as successful.

A malignant melanoma may appear as a dark lump on the skin which is itchy or painful and may be oozing or bleeding.

Skin Cancer – Race and Skin Type

Skin cancer should not be taken lightly as it is just as dangerous as malignant tumours elsewhere on the body. While skin cancer is prevalent in Caucasians (South Africa ~ whites), every person is at risk of developing these types of cancer.

Our skin pigmentation, due to melanin produced by melanocytes, provides sun protection for the skin. Light skinned individuals who do not tan easily are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. With the depleting ozone layer, UV radiation exposure has increased thereby making every person prone to skin cancer.

If you have any skin lesion that appears to be growing rapidly, you should consult with a dermatologist to exclude the possibility of skin cancer.