Skin cancer

Every year more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are reported worldwide , becoming one of the most common types of cancer.

Although most of them are not fatal if detected and treated early, it is important to know their nature and the best ways to prevent it.

It should be borne in mind that, although it is more common, skin cancer does not always develop in areas exposed to sunlight. There are different types of skin cancer and different risk factors that can lead to its occurrence.

Therefore, in today’s article we will look at the most common types of skin cancer, specifying their causes and symptoms, as well as related risk factors and best strategies to prevent their development.

What is skin cancer?

Like any cancer, it consists of an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in our body, which, due to a mutation or damage to their genetic material, lose their reproductive regulation system.

This causes them to grow more than they should and end up causing the formation of a tumor, which can be malignant and take the category of cancer.

Therefore, skin cancer is the type of cancer that develops in the cells of the epidermis. Although it usually appears in the areas most exposed to the sun, it can also appear in areas of the skin that never come into contact (or very little) with sunlight.

Although, as we shall see, the characteristics depend on the type of skin cancer suffered, they are usually all characterized by the appearance of bumps, lesions or ulcers in the affected region.

However, most skin cancers can be treated with surgery if detected quickly, as they are usually found on the surface and do not spread to other organs.


Skin cancer develops when skin cells undergo mutations in their genetic material , which cause them to grow out of control and end up producing cancer. All of these errors in genes occur spontaneously, although there are certain factors that increase the probability of their occurrence, as there are compounds that damage the genetic material of cells.

One of them is ultraviolet radiation, which is present in sunlight. Therefore, the main cause of skin cancer development is prolonged exposure to sunlight, which causes skin cells to be damaged slowly until cancer can develop.

However, there are some skin cancers that appear in areas of the body which are practically never exposed to sunlight, in which case the causes are not very clear.

In addition, there are several risk factors that predispose to the development of this type of cancer: having fair skin, having scars, having sunburn when you are young, living in a very sunny climate and / or altitude large, having a weakened immune system, being exposed to toxic substances like arsenic, family history …

Where does it appear?

Skin cancer is one that develops on the epidermis, which is the most superficial layer of the skin . It is the layer that is exposed to sunlight, which explains why skin cancers arise.

We know that there are three main types of cells in this epidermis. Depending on which of them is affected by the mutation, we will face one type or another of skin cancer. The three types of cells are as follows:

1. Melanocytes

Melanocytes are skin cells responsible for the production of melanin , a pigment that, in addition to giving color to the skin, serves as a natural protection against solar radiation. These melanocytes are found in the lower part of the epidermis and increase their functionality as much as we are exposed to the sun. This explains why when we sunbathe we get brown, as these cells produce more melanin to protect us from it.

2. Basal cells

Basal cells are those found, as their name suggests, at the base of the epidermis. They are located just below the squamous cells and its main function is to produce new epithelial cells .

3. Squamous cells

Squamous cells are those found in the upper part of the epidermis, that is, they are those that are in contact with the outside. They are the cells most exposed to solar radiation and those that, therefore, can be more easily damaged, undergo mutations and lead to tumors.

Top 3 Types of Skin Cancer (and Their Symptoms)

There are many different types of skin cancer, as there are some that affect the blood vessels of the skin, others in the sebaceous glands, in the hair-producing cells, and so on. However, We present the three main types of skin cancer, which are defined by the type of cell affected .

As we will see, the most aggressive type of cancer is the one that appears in melanocytes. Fortunately, being in the innermost areas of the skin is no longer common. The most common are those that occur in basal or squamous cells.

1. Non-melanoma skin cancer

To facilitate the classification, skin cancers that do not appear in melanocytes are grouped into a single group With In it, we have those that develop in basal cells and those that develop in squamous cells.

Non-melanoma types are the most common among skin cancers, as approximately 75% of skin cancers diagnosed are from this group. 1 million new cases are discovered every year in the world.

1.1. Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that, as its name suggests, appears in the basal cells of the epidermis. It usually develops in areas of the skin most exposed to the sun, especially the head and neck, although it can sometimes appear in regions that do not suffer from the incidence of ultraviolet radiation, such as the genitals.

Basal cell carcinomas are known because a wound that does not heal is often seen and displayed without explanation. These injuries usually have one of the following characteristics:

  • The appearance of translucent lumps with visible blood vessels.
  • The appearance of lesions similar to a white scar.
  • Formation of scaly and reddish spots.
  • The appearance of brown, black or blue lesions.

However, basal cell carcinoma rarely causes serious complications, as it is very rare for it to spread to other organs. However, the possibility of increasing the risk of developing other more serious types of cancer is being studied. Therefore, it is important to treat it early. Removal surgery is usually sufficient.

1.2 Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma, also known as skin squamous cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, is the most common type of skin cancer as it develops in the outermost layers of the epidermis, which are the most common large amounts of ultraviolet radiation.

Basal cell carcinoma most often develops in the areas most exposed to sunlight, such as hands, lips, ears, nose, etc., although it can appear in other parts such as the feet, genitals and even inside the mouth.

The characteristics of the lesions depend on where they appear, but are usually as follows:

  • Formation of scaly crust wounds.
  • The appearance of a red and strong lump.
  • Formation of wart-like patches.

Although rare, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other organs, especially the lymph nodes, in which case it can be fatal. Hence the importance of prompt detection and early treatment. Surgery is usually enough to treat cancer.

2. Melanoma

Melanoma is the most aggressive type of skin cancer , although it is even less common, but that does not mean it should be underestimated, as more than 280,000 cases continue to occur each year worldwide.

Melanoma can appear anywhere on the body. And, although it is true that it usually does so in parts exposed to the sun (back, hands, feet, arms, nose, ears, lips …), it can develop in areas that do not suffer from the incidence of sunlight , even in the intestines. The causes of many melanomas are not yet known exactly.

The main symptom is that new moles appear on the skin or that existing ones change in size or shape. However, one of its main problems is that it does not always result in the formation of a mole, as melanocytes are in the innermost layers, they often do not show any manifestation on the skin.

If detected quickly, a melanoma can be treated with resection surgery. However, since it sometimes shows no symptoms until it spreads to other organs (hence it is the most serious form of skin cancer), treatment may need to include chemotherapy or radiation therapy.


While it is true that some cases of skin cancer are of an unknown cause, virtually all are due to prolonged exposure to sunlight. Thus, the best form of prevention is to limit the time spent in the sun, in addition to always using sunscreens when you will be exposed to it.

We should always check our skin and, before the appearance of any mole, injury or lesion, the origin of which we do not know, it is important to go to the doctor quickly. Early detection greatly increases the chances of treatment being successful.

Back to top button