Types of Skin Cancer on the Face

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Skin cancer is the most widely diagnosed cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). There is a direct causal relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer. Thus, it is not surprising that many such cancers appear on the face, which is an area of the body that is almost always exposed to sunlight when people are outside. Roughly 1.1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, the ACS reports. The vast majority of them respond quickly to treatment.

Three Main Types

Skin cancers are most often found on areas of the body that are routinely exposed to the sun, such as the face, the neck, the ears and the backs of hands. The three most common forms of skin cancer, all of which can occur on the face, are basal-cell carcinoma, squamous-cell carcinoma and melanoma. All three can be cured if diagnosed early and treatment is begun. Like all cancers, skin cancers are characterized by the abnormal growth of the cells that are affected---in this case, skin cells.

Basal-Cell Carcinoma

Along with squamous-cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma is classified as a nonmelanoma skin cancer. Together, these two types of skin cancer are diagnosed in slightly more than 1 million Americans every year. MayoClinic.com says that this most common form of skin cancer usually appears on the face as a waxy or pearlescent bump or, less commonly, as a white, waxy scar. When it begins as a bump, the cancer may eventually develop a crust, bleed or develop a depression at its center; this form of basal cell carcinoma may appear as a brown or black bump in darker-skinned people. Basal-cell skin cancers are easily cured if diagnosed early.

Squamous-Cell Carcinoma

Squamous-cell carcinoma accounts for about 10 percent of all nonmelanoma skin cancers and, like basal cell cancer, is readily cured if diagnosed in its early stages. On and around the face, it most often appears in one of the following forms: a firm, red bump; a mouth ulcer that is white in color; or a flat lesion that gradually develops a scaly crust.

Melanoma

The most deadly of all skin cancers, melanoma kills 8,000 to 9,000 Americans every year, although it responds well to treatment if diagnosed early. Early signs of this form of skin cancer are changes in an existing mole or the appearance of a strange-looking growth somewhere on the skin. Although it is less common, melanoma can manifest itself as an abnormal growth in the eye's retina or an unusual growth in the mucosal lining of the nose or mouth. If you suspect melanoma, you must seek medical attention immediately.

Reducing Risk

The incidence of skin cancers in general has grown at an exponential rate as people expose more and more of their skin to the sun. You can lower your risk by reducing exposure to the sun to a minimum, using sunscreen with a SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher, shielding as much of your skin as possible when you must be out in the sun and avoiding tanning booths.

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