black ribbon for skin cancer awareness month As the sun emerges and temperatures rise, it's time to remember that May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Longer days outside mean that it's more important than ever to prioritize skin health and recognize the value of sun protection. Our goal at Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery Institute (DCSI) is to increase public knowledge about the early identification, diagnosis, and treatment of skin cancer. Come along as we delve into insightful discussions, useful tips, and resources to keep you informed and lower your chance of developing skin cancer in May and beyond.  

National Skin Cancer Awareness Month 2024

Every year, May is set aside as Skin Cancer Awareness Month to promote skin cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment. Organizations and medical professionals strive to inform the public about the significance of sun safety, routine skin checks, and getting medical help for any suspicious skin lesions during this month.  Encouraging people to take preventative measures to safeguard their skin and lower their chance of developing skin cancer is the goal. Several activities, campaigns, and events are planned during Skin Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness of sun safety precautions and to support early detection through screening and education. As a Florida dermatologist, Dr. Mounir Wassef is experienced in detecting and treating skin cancers of all kinds. Renowned for sun exposure, the Sunshine State can be just as hard on the skin as it is enjoyable in the Spring and Summer seasons. As such, we invite you to connect with our dermatologists at DCSI for a consultation to check for signs of skin cancer and begin the journey to better health.  

What Are the 4 Types of Skin Cancer?

There are 4 main types of skin cancer: 
  • Basal cell carcinoma: This form of skin cancer arises from basal cells, round cells located in the lower epidermis, and accounts for approximately 80% of skin cancers.1 Typically, slow-growing basal cell carcinoma primarily affects the head and neck, though it can appear elsewhere due to sun exposure or past radiation therapy. 
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Originating from flat, scale-like squamous cells, squamous cell carcinoma affects about 20% of skin cancers.2 Often sun-related, it can manifest on various skin areas, including lips, scar tissue, and genital regions. 
  • Merkel cell carcinoma: A rare and aggressive cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma starts in hormone-producing cells beneath the skin, commonly in the head and neck. 
  • Melanoma: Originating from melanocytes that produce melanin pigment, melanoma is the most severe skin cancer, representing about 1.7% of global cancer diagnoses.3
These are the primary types of skin cancer, but there are other less common types as well, such as cutaneous lymphoma. It's important to regularly examine your skin for any changes. If you believe you may have skin cancer, schedule an appointment with a DCSI dermatologist in Delray Beach or Wellington, as early detection and treatment are key to skin cancer prevention and recovery.   

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

Skin cancer can vary in appearance depending on the type of cancer and other individual factors, such as the size of the affected area. Here are some common physical characteristics of skin cancer:   
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC):
      • A flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin.
      • A sore that continuously heals and reopens.
      • A shiny bump or nodule that may have visible blood vessels.
      • A scar-like area that is white, yellow, or waxy in appearance.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC):
      • A firm, red nodule.
      • A flat sore with a scaly crust.
      • A new growth or sore that doesn't heal or heals and returns.
      • A raised, wart-like growth.
  • Melanoma:
    • Asymmetrical moles or lesions (one half doesn't match the other).
    • Irregular borders or edges.
    • Variation in color within the same mole or lesion (shades of brown, black, red, white, or blue).
    • Diameter larger than a pencil eraser (about 6 millimeters).
    • Evolving moles or lesions (changes in size, shape, color, or elevation).
Remember, skin cancer can manifest in other ways, as well. These descriptions do not take the place of a professional diagnosis. Additionally, not all changes in the skin indicate cancer, but any new or changing spots should be evaluated by a dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.   

What Does the Beginning of Skin Cancer Look Like?

As with overall appearance, the beginning signs of skin cancer can vary depending on the type of cancer. Some common early signs of skin cancer may include physical changes such as:
  • Changes in Moles: New moles or changes in existing moles, such as asymmetry, irregular borders, variations in color, or a diameter larger than a pencil eraser (about 6 millimeters).
  • Unusual Growth or Spot: Development of a new growth, sore, or spot on the skin that doesn't heal within a few weeks.
  • Scaly or Crusty Lesions: The presence of scaly, crusty, or rough patches on the skin, which may bleed or become sore.
  • Red or Pink Bumps: Appearance of small, raised, red, or pink bumps on the skin, especially those that may bleed easily or develop a crust.
  • Persistent Skin Changes: Any persistent changes in the skin's appearance, texture, or sensation, such as itching, tenderness, or pain.
While not all skin changes are cancerous, any new or changing spots on the skin should be checked by a professional. Schedule a consultation with our Delray Beach or Wellington dermatology office to have any skin changes you’ve noticed properly checked. Early detection and regular self-examination for signs of changes are essential for preventing and treating skin cancer.   

How Fast Does Skin Cancer Grow?

Depending on the type, some forms of skin cancer can grow within a matter of weeks, while others may grow over months or longer. Also, keep in mind that some forms of skin cancer are more aggressive than others, which can affect the rate at which they grow or spread on the skin. For this reason, it’s important to be checked by a skin cancer dermatologist the moment you realize any new moles, spots, or growths on the skin or changes in existing ones.   

Is Skin Cancer Hereditary?

While most non-melanoma skin cancers do not run in families, research shows that individuals have an increased risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer (SCC) if one of their parents had SCC. Additionally, people who have a family history of melanoma are also at an increased risk of developing basal cell skin cancer (BCC).4   

Is Skin Cancer Contagious?

No, skin cancer is not contagious. Although certain viral and bacterial infections are linked to 15 to 20% of skin cancers, the cancer itself is not contagious and cannot be passed onto others either by touch or any other means.5 However, as we previously mentioned, individuals with a family history of certain skin cancers may be at an increased risk of developing them, as is the case with SCC, melanoma, and BCC.  

Skin Cancer Death Rate

The type and stage of the cancer, the patient's general health, and the availability of treatment are some of the variables that affect the death rate from skin cancer. But generally speaking:
  • The most common forms of skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma - tend to have low death rates because they can usually be cured if detected and treated early. 
  • Although melanoma is less common than squamous and basal cell carcinomas, it can be fatal if left untreated and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma death rates vary according to tumor location, thickness, and whether or not the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant organs.
According to research, the average five-year survival rate in the US across all stages of melanoma is 94%. Patients with early-stage melanoma have an estimated five-year survival rate of over 99%. However, when the illness spreads to lymph nodes, the survival rate drops to 74%, and when it spreads to other organs, it drops to 35%.6  

How Is Skin Cancer Treated?

Common types of skin cancer treatment include:
  • Excision
  • Mohs micrographic surgery
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation
  • Cryotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy 
  • Topical Treatments 
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
  • Targeted Therapy
  • Immunotherapy
Surgeries such as Mohs micrographic surgery and excision are most commonly used for basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, including advanced cases. Radiation therapy is commonly used to treat skin cancer that is not fully treatable with surgery, especially in cases of larger or more aggressive tumors. Topical treatment, cryotherapy, and PDT are common treatments for superficial or less aggressive skin cancers.   

Can Skin Cancer Be Cured?

Almost all skin cancers can be cured if they’re treated before they spread. The earlier skin cancer is detected and removed, the better the individual’s chances of recovery. In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, the DCSI team strongly encourages you to get your annual full-body dermatology exam soon to prevent or detect skin cancer.   

Skin Cancer Treatments Offered at DCSI

Take charge of your skin health today. Contact DCSI today to schedule a skin cancer check-up and ensure early detection and treatment. Don't wait until it's too late. Prioritize your well-being. Your skin deserves expert care, and DCSI is here to provide it.   Sources: 
  1. YaleMedicine - Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
  2. Canadian Cancer Society - Types of non-melanoma skin cancer
  3. National Library of Medicine - Epidemiology of Melanoma
  4. Cancer Research UK - Risks and causes of skin cancer
  5. National Library of Medicine - Viruses Associated with Human Cancer
  6. Skin Cancer Foundation - Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics