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Skin Cancer: What you Need to Know

The most common cancer that occurs among humans is skin cancer. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight can alter genetics in skin cells which causes mutations. Early warning signs of skin cancer include a new growth or a change in appearance of the skin. Melanoma is the most serious cancer due to its fast rate of uncontrolled cell growth, which allows it to spread through the body quickly. Non-melanoma skin cancer includes squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. These two carcinomas are known to be the most common forms of skin cancer. 

Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that originates in cells that look similar to fish scales under a microscope. Squamous cells are found in respiratory and digestive tracts, the lining of hollow organs of the body, and superficial tissues on the skin. This type of cancer occurs one fourth as often as basal cell carcinoma. The most significant risks factors for developing this type of cancer are extent of sun exposure and light colored skin. The lesions usually appear amongst a patch of sun damaged skin, are sore to the touch, and are irregularly shaped. Squamous cell carcinomas can metastasize and spread throughout the body. The tumors initially appear as skin colored or red firm nodules and most often are seen on the lower lip. It is usually diagnosed after a biopsy is performed. Treatment includes radiation therapy, surgical excision, usage of creams, or cryosurgery in which the cancerous cells are frozen with liquid nitrogen to terminate abnormal cell growth. 

Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 90% of all skin cancer in the United States. The risk factors for this carcinoma are similar to those found in squamous cells. The most common site for these lesions is the face. Approximately 20% of basal cell carcinoma is found in the scalp, cheek, back, arms, and legs. These areas typically tend to be less exposed to the sun. The signs of this carcinoma include a shiny patch of skin that is dome shaped and covered in small blood vessels. This lesion is often described as having a pearly appearance and is often difficult to differentiate from a mole. It can take months or years for the lesion to become a noticeable size secondary to the carcinomas slow cell growth. Typically, it is uncommon for these cells to metastasize, but it is possible for them to damage or disfigure an ear, nose or eye if the cell growth is close. It is diagnosed after a biopsy and treatment includes similar approaches as squamous cell carcinoma.  

In conclusion, three main types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers including squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. The cure rate for non-melanoma skin cancer can be up to 100% if the lesion is brought to a doctor’s attention before the cells metastasize. Since ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause skin mutations, limiting sun exposure and regular skin examinations are the best way to limit the risk of developing skin cancer. 

Shannon Elqorchi is a physical therapist with North Pocono ProCare Physical Therapy in Moscow.  If there are questions, concerns or ideas for future columns, please contact Shannon at

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