University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Chris Arpey, MD
Associate Professor, Dermatology
First Published: 2002
Last Revised: March 2004
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
If you're sitting outside reading this in the spring sunshine, you
might want to put on a hat or go inside.
Skin cancer affects about the same number of patients as all other
cancers combined according to the American Cancer Society. It is the
most common cancer in the United States, affecting some one million
Americans each year. Baby boomers who had severe sunburns as children
or who, as adults, play in the sun are a high-risk population for
developing skin cancers. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the
main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation from tanning beds or sun
lamps also may cause skin cancer.
The most common types of skin cancer, squamous cell and basal cell
carcinoma, are curable in more than 98 percent of patients, but early
detection and treatment are crucial says UI Health Care
dermatologist Chris Arpey, MD Of the two, squamous cell carcinoma
is the most dangerous. The prognosis for melanoma patients is not as
positive because the melanoma tumor may spread to other parts of the
body, invading major organs. The incidence of melanoma is lower than
other types of skin cancer, but it is responsible for 75 percent of
all deaths from skin cancer. While squamous cell carcinoma also may
spread, Arpey says it is not as threatening as melanoma.
If you notice any change in a preexisting skin growth or the
development of a new growth or open sore that fails to heal, contact
a physician immediately.
Squamous cell cancer warning signs include:
- a wart-like growth
that crusts and occasionally bleeds;
- a persistent, scaly red patch
with irregular borders that sometimes crusts or bleed;
- an open sore
that bleeds and crusts and persists for week;
- an elevated growth with
a central depression that occasionally bleeds;
- a growth of this
type may rapidly increase in size.
Basal cell cancer warning signs include:
- an open sore that bleeds
or remains open for three or more weeks;
- a reddish patch or irritated
area that may itch or hurt;
- a shiny bump that is pearly or
translucent and is often pink, red, or white;
- a pink growth with a
slightly elevated rolled border and crusted indentation;
scar-like area that is white, yellow or waxy.
The prognosis for melanoma patients is not as positive because the
melanoma tumor may spread to other parts of the body, invading major
organs. The incidence of melanoma is lower than other types of skin
cancer, but it is responsible for 75 percent of all deaths from skin
cancer. While squamous cell carcinoma also may spread, Arpey says it
is not as threatening as melanoma. Melanoma warning signs include
growth of a new mole, or if an existing mole itches, bleeds, grows,
or changes in size, shape, or color.
Sun Safety Tips
- Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Stay in the
shade when possible.
- Use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays
and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater, even on
- Sunscreens should be used anytime you will be in the sun for
more than 20 minutes. Apply the sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before
- Don't forget your lips, use a lip balm containing
- Re-apply the sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days.
Look for a waterproof variety if you will be sweating or
- Wear protective clothing like broad-brimmed hats, long pants
and long-sleeved shirts.
- Protect your eyes with sunglasses.