What is the Most Dangerous Form of Skin Cancer?

By: John Hinson | On: September 8, 2015

Florida isn’t nicknamed ‘The Sunshine State’ for no reason! Our sunny weather attracts tourists to our beaches, resorts, and theme parks year-round.

Unfortunately, all that sun can be harmful! One in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime. The biggest risk factor is regular, intense exposure to UV rays. Some people are genetically predisposed to develop skin cancer, which increases their risk further.

But, you may ask, what is the most dangerous form of skin cancer?

What is the Most Dangerous Form of Skin Cancer?

Male dermatologist examining mole on back of woman in clinicMelanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 73,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year alone.

Melanoma’s cancerous growths are caused by DNA damage to skin cells. The damage causes mutations that quickly spread and form malignant tumors in the basal layer of the epidermis, usually starting in melanocytes – pigment-producing cells.

If not caught at an early stage, melanoma spreads at a rapid rate. This disease can be fatal if left untreated, as it can spread to other organs and cause further complications.

Fortunately, if caught early on, melanoma is generally curable.

Causes and Symptoms

Intense UV exposure, especially in cases leading to sunburn, is a leading cause of melanoma. Sun tanning beds, frequent lie-outs at the beach, and improper (or lack of) use of suntan lotion are all ways to become overexposed to UV rays.

Even if you’ve practiced good sun exposure habits, you can still be at risk for melanoma. Other risk factors include being light or fair-skinned, a family history of melanoma, old age, and a weak immune system.

Melanomas can resemble moles, as many are black or brown like a mole. However, they come in a variety of colors, including white, blue, red, pink, or skin-colored. They may or may not hurt, but this varies between individuals.

Identifying Warning Signs

If you spend a lot of time in the sun, whether for work or relaxation, you may be at an increased risk for melanoma. Regularly perform a skin exam by standing in front of a full-length mirror. You are looking for moles that either weren’t there before, or keeping track of existing moles.

  • Asymmetrical Moles: Most healthy, normal moles have a symmetrical shape with rounded edges. An asymmetrical mole with uneven edges can be a warning sign.
  • Change of Size or Shape: If you’ve noticed a mole on your body that hasn’t seemed abnormal, but it begins to grow or change shape, that is a warning sign that something may be wrong. Normal moles don’t change size or shape.
  • Large Diameter (¼”): Many moles are small. An abnormally sized one would be anything larger than ¼” – or about the size of an average pinky fingernail.
  • Multiple Colors: Most normal moles are one solid color. A mole which has multiple colors is a warning sign.

Remember, melanoma is almost always curable when caught in the early stages. Regular self-checks don’t take a lot of time, and they could spare you time, money, and most importantly, your health.

How does Ultraviolet Radiation Cause Skin Cancer?

We’re exposed to UV rays every time we step outside into the beautiful Florida sun. Normal exposure isn’t necessarily dangerous. People who use sun tanning beds frequently, who work outside regularly, who don’t use proper UV protection, or lay out on the beach a lot are at a higher risk for developing melanoma.

Prolonged exposure to UV rays causes damage to your skin cell’s DNA. While our bodies can repair normal amounts of damage done by UV rays, accumulated damage can cause cells to start growing at an irregular rate. This, in turn can lead to skin cancer.

Sunburns and Skin Cancer

SunburnSunburns are one of the top contributors to developing skin cancer. Your body has to work hard to repair the damage done by overexposure to UV rays.

The healing process is not always perfect, so some damaged cells may be left behind. The effort to repair these cells can trigger cell mutation, leading to skin cancer.

While a single sunburn won’t lead to skin cancer, it does greatly increase your risk. You’ll want to consider proper precautions in the future, such as SPF reinforced clothing, limiting your sun exposure, or using suntan lotion can all help prevent sunburns!

If you’ve been sunburned, you’ll need to treat it properly. Check out our handy sunburn care guide here.

Florida Medical Clinic

Florida Medical Clinic’s Dermatology Department offers full diagnostic and treatment options for skin cancer. We offer Mohs Surgery as an outpatient procedure, which is an effective way of treating most kinds of skin cancer. Whether you’re unsure if the mole on your leg is benign or cancerous, or if you’re needing treatment for diagnosed cancers, we’ve got you covered.

Contact us today! You can also Request an Appointment online for non-urgent medical problems.