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Skin Cancer: Major Types, Protection & Risk Factors

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  • 0:04 Thinking About the Future
  • 0:53 Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • 2:08 Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • 3:01 Melanoma of the Skin
  • 7:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. You'll find out which is the most common and which is the most dangerous.

Thinking About the Future

When we're young, we tend to think that we're invincible. And if we don't think we're invincible, then most young people rarely think about the long-term consequences of their actions. And even then, if they do think about the long-term consequences, they usually seem so far away and improbable that it's nothing to worry about.

But predisposing yourself to skin cancer risk factors, such as going out with friends to the beach on a sunny day and tanning at the local salon, especially if you are fair-skinned, is a bit dangerous over time to say the least. That's because skin cancer isn't something you get right after one sunburn. Instead, the effects are cumulative over many years. It's kind of like eating a piece of cake. One piece will not give you cavities or make you fat. But lots of pieces over a long period of time just might.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

With that in mind, I'm going to first discuss one form of skin cancer you're more likely to get if you don't heed my warning of avoiding the sun and tanning beds. It's called basal cell carcinoma, and it is the most common form of cancer and skin cancer, one that arises from basal cells of the epidermis. These cells are found in the deepest layer of the epidermis, which is the outer portion of your skin you see with your eyes.

The majority of cases of BCC, basal cell carcinoma, occur on the head and neck, and of those many appear on the nose. The most common form of basal cell carcinoma is called nodular and presents itself as a round, dome-shaped, flesh-colored, and painless lesion that is many times ulcerated. Furthermore, nodular BCC often has telangiectasia, which refers to small, dilated, visible blood vessels near the surface of the skin.

Overall, basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads (metastasizes) around the body, kills, or comes back with proper treatment, frequently by way of surgical removal, but it may disfigure the face if not taken care of. So, that doesn't mean you should take it lightly.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Equally disfiguring, sometimes even with treatment, is the second most common form of skin cancer, known as cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. The word cutaneous is used here because it refers to the skin. But you should note that squamous cell carcinoma can occur in other places where squamous, or pancake-shaped, cells exist, such as the lungs.

Like basal cell carcinoma, SCC affects the head and neck most often. This type of cancer often looks like a sore with scaly crusting. Thankfully, SCC is usually not fatal and can be treated with surgical removal or 'electrodesiccation and curettage,' where the cancer is basically scraped off and the cells are boiled alive. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy in cases where SCC has spread can be used as well.

Melanoma of the Skin

Last, but by no means close to being least, we will discuss melanoma. A melanoma is a malignant skin cancer arising from melanocytes of the skin. The melanocytes are the cells that are responsible for giving you that beautiful golden-brown tan you may enjoy giving yourself at the beach or tanning salon.

The problem is that these cells may then turn on you and try and kill you as a result of malignant transformation, which is when good cells turn into cancer cells.

Even though melanoma is less common than BCC and SCC, the reason it's much more famous is because it is the one most likely to kill you. To put this into a numbers perspective for you: melanoma accounts for only 4% of skin cancers but 75% of skin cancer-related deaths. I think that's pretty scary. One person every hour dies from metastatic melanoma in the United States. I think that's pretty sobering.

Because of these facts, I'm going to spend a bit more time on this type of cancer. First, we must discuss the critical things to look out for when looking for melanoma. The earlier you find a melanoma, the better the chances for survival.

Things to look out for on the skin anywhere on your body involve your ABCDEs:

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