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5 Types of Skin Cancer and Their Causes

The sun keeps us alive and makes us feel good but too much sunshine can put your health at risk. Nearly 10,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States every day, making it the most common type of cancer. If you don’t think it’s worth the worry, consider this: 1 in 5 people in the US will be diagnosed with skin cancer during their lifetime.

First and foremost, it’s important to know what to look for. There are different types of skin cancer that vary in appearance and tend to show up on certain parts of the body, such as the eyes, ears, and forehead. Varying types of skin cancer also come with different symptoms and risk factors. If left untreated, skin cancer will continue to grow and may spread to other areas in the body. Luckily, there is a lot you can do to be proactive and reduce your risk. If found early, integrative treatment for skin cancer can be very effective.

Different Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells. It can affect anyone and most often develops on areas of the skin that get exposed to the sun. Not many people know this, but there are different types of skin cancer that are named after the skin cell in which the cancer develops. Our skin is made up of basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocytes. Different types of skin cancer include: Basal cell carcinoma (BCC). Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and Melanoma. Carcinoma is another word for cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

The basal cell layer of the skin is the lowest part of the epidermis. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Although it can affect people with darker skin, BCC usually develops in people with fair skin after years of frequent sun exposure.

Basal Cell Carcinoma appears on the skin as a pink or flesh-colored bump, like a skin-colored mole or a pimple that won’t go away. It can also appear as a shiny or scaly irregular-shaped patch of skin. Although it can technically form anywhere, BCC commonly develops on areas of the body with the most sun exposure such as the head, neck, and arms. Early diagnosis and treatment for Basal Cell Carcinoma is important. Basal cell cancers grow slowly, but if left untreated this type of skin cancer can spread into the nerves and bones, which can cause more damage and even disfigurement.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. Although people with darker skin can be affected, people with fair skin are most likely to develop SCC. It often appears in the form of a firm red bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and re-opens. This type of skin cancer tends to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, back of the hand, face, neck, arms, chest, and back. Squamous cancer cells can also develop in scars, skin ulcers, or in the genital region.  Early diagnosis and integrative skin cancer treatment can stop Squamous Cell Carcinoma from invading fatty tissues or spreading to other areas of the body.


Melanoma is the most obvious and deadliest form of cancer, causing 75% of all skin cancer deaths. This type of cancer usually develops on the skin, but it can form in any part of the body that contains melanocyte cells, such as the eyes, ear, brain, heart, and spinal cord. Melanoma usually grows in a mole or can appear suddenly as a new dark spot on the skin. It is crucial to know the warning signs of melanoma because of how serious this type of cancer is.  

Here’s an easy ABCD rule to keep in mind when looking for melanoma: watch for asymmetry, borders, color, and diameter. If the shape of one half doesn’t match the other, if the borders have uneven, blurred, or misshapen edges, if you see different shades or uneven colors, or notice a significant change in size, get it checked out right away. Melanoma is different to control and can spread to other organs if left untreated. Early diagnosis and integrative skin cancer treatment will have a significant impact on your life.

Precancerous Skin Conditions To Look Out For

Sometimes we get weird bumps, new dark spots, and patches of scaly skin that aren’t cancer but are still cause for concern. Keep an eye out for these two precancerous skin conditions:

Keratoacanthoma is a dome-shaped skin cancer tumor that is usually found on sun-exposed skin such as the face, forearms, or hands. It can appear suddenly and grow larger over the course of few months, but then may slowly start to shrink and resolve itself. Keratoacanthoma tumors are usually considered benign or noncancerous. However, tumors that continue to grow can progress into Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Actinic Keratoses
Actinic Keratoses are precancerous growths that appear as dry, scaly patches or spots on the skin. This type of skin growth tends to develop in people over 40, after years of sun exposure. It usually develops in exposed areas such as the hands, forearms, neck, and head. If left untreated, Actinic Keratoses can develop into a type of skin cancer called Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Skin Cancer Causes and Risk Factors 

It’s no big surprise that sun exposure is the top cause of all types of skin cancer. Over time, the sun’s UV rays damages the cells and fibers in our skin. Although it may not be apparent early in life, sun damage to the skin will accumulate and show eventually.

Areas affected with skin cancer generally stand out. If you see a weird lump, new mole, or patchy spot that strikes you as being a bit odd, take it seriously.

Although anyone can get skin cancer, people who have fair or freckled skin that burns easily, light eyes and blond or red hair, are at greatest risk. The risk for people with darker skin developing skin cancer is significantly lower. Individuals with one or more first-degree relatives (such as a parent or sibling) with skin cancer are at increased risk. As we age, we accumulate exposure to UV radiation and our risks of developing skin cancer increases. A history of sunburns can mean a future with skin cancer. Having an outdoor job or living in a sunny climate can also increase your chances of developing skin cancer.

Other skin cancer causes include: a weakened immune system, smoking, and exposure to certain chemicals such as arsenic, industrial tar, coal, and paraffin.

Integrative Skin Cancer Treatment

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US and can be treated effectively if found early. It’s never too late to start protecting yourself from the sun. No one really likes wearing sunscreen, but it’s one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. There are also many natural ways to prevent skin cancer other than using sunscreen.

Integrative skin cancer treatment is based on strengthening the immune system and respecting the mind, body, and spirit of a person suffering from cancer. By utilizing time-tested, scientifically-proven, natural, non-toxic therapies a person is better supported and optimal self-healing can occur. Some of these integrated natural treatment plans include nutritional counselling, optimization of vitamins, supplements, and other immune boosters, and lifestyle coaching.

Since 85% of the immune system is within the digestive system, nutrition plays a critical role in both the prevention and treatment of cancer. Some foods can even help protect our skin from the damage caused by the sun's UV rays by ensuring the body produces healthy new skin cells. For example, green tea, olive oil, leafy greens, colorful vegetables, dark chocolate, and legumes are rich in antioxidants which can directly help prevent skin cancer. A nutrient-dense plant-based diet is crucial to maintaining a healthy immune system and for supportive cancer treatment.                                                                                                                          

If you’re concerned about skin cancer or issues you’re experiencing from sun damage, reach out to Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. at Advanced Health for a consultation! As an integrative functional medicine physician, Dr. Payal Bhandari, M.D blends diagnostic and medical expertise with evidence-based complementary therapies for people with chronic illness. She will guide you through how your symptoms or illness can be directly impacted by your lifestyle and other environmental factors. She loves to help people take back control of their lives through simple tips we can each be empowered by. With her exceptional care and guidance you will quickly see an improvement in your overall health.

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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