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Skin Cancer Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rachel Torrens

Rachel is a Nurse Practitioner with experience working as a high school teacher, skin surgery center, and as a family NP.

Our skin is an amazingly strong organ, but like all our body parts it too can get sick. In this lesson, learn the three most common types of skin cancer and tips for reducing the risk of developing skin cancer.

Layers of Skin

I want you to picture a candy bar in your mind. First imagine a layer of chocolate, then a layer of chewy nougat, then a layer of caramel and peanuts, and finally another layer of chocolate. Yum!

Okay, so what does a candy bar have to do with skin cancer?! Well, skin is remarkably similar to a candy bar — it's similarly made of different layers, and within these layers are different types of skin cells. Certain types of skin cell are more likely to develop skin cancer.

Also, like the candy bar, certain environmental factors can change the structure. For example, if you took a candy bar and put it in a driveway on a hot summer day, what would happen? It would turn into a pile of chocolate goo. Similarly, when skin is exposed to the sun for long periods of time it changes. This is because the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun penetrates the skin, and can mutate the skin cell from normal to cancerous.

Three Types of Skin Cancer

Keeping in mind that the skin has different types of skin cells, it is not surprising to learn that there is more than one type of skin cancer. The three most common types are:

  1. squamous cell carcinoma
  2. basal cell carcinoma
  3. melanoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a skin cancer that starts in the squamous cells in the top layer of skin. They usually look like reddish, scaly patches, which may bleed or get crusty. SCCs can be itchy. The most common areas to find SCCs are on sun-exposed areas.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCCs) is a skin cancer that starts in the basal cells in the top layer of skin. BCCs are the most common type of skin cancer. They usually appear as a white, pink, or flesh-colored, pearly bump. However, they can also present as reddish sores. BCCs tend to be slow-growing, and are usually easier to treat. Most often BCCs form on sun-exposed areas, although they may develop elsewhere in rare cases.

This BCC is a bump with a pearly finish.
basal cell cancer

Melanoma

Melanoma is a skin cancer that starts in the melanocytes, the pigment cells that give skin its unique color. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer because it can grow very quickly. It can also enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the entire body. Melanomas often look like brown-black moles that have:

  • grown larger, over six millimeters in diameter
  • become irregular in shape
  • changed in color or appearance

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