Cutaneous cancers are also referred to as skin cancers. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US. The good news is that most skin cancer is highly treatable and can be cured when found and treated early.

What are cutaneous cancers?

Cutaneous cancers occur when skin cells begin dividing and reproducing in an uncontrolled manner. People with all skin tones can get skin cancer, although those with fair skin are at a higher risk.

Types of cutaneous cancer

There are four types of skin cancer that are the most common:

  • Melanoma. This type typically begins in a mole or develops as a new dark spot on your skin. This type, if not caught and treated early, can be deadly. However, when caught early and treated, this type of cancer has a high cure rate.
  • Basal cell carcinoma. This is the most common type of skin cancer. It typically appears on areas exposed to the sun. It may appear as a pinkish patch of skin or as a fleshy, pearl-like bump.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This is the second most common type. This type of cancer typically appears as a firm, reddish bump or a scaly patch of skin. It may also appear as a sore on the skin that heals and then opens up again.
  • Actinic keratoses. This type of skin cancer appears as scaly and dry patches on the skin. This appearance is considered the earliest stage of skin cancer.

Causes of cutaneous cancer

The most common cause of skin cancer is unprotected exposure to the sun. People who have a personal history of sunburns or a family history of skin cancer are at higher risk. Other causes can include indoor tanning, scars caused by a burn or disease, a weakened immune system, and X-ray exposure.

Symptoms of cutaneous cancer

The most common skin cancer symptoms involve changes in your skin's appearance. Regular self-exams can help you familiarize yourself with your skin so that you are able to spot changes easily. Engage the help of a partner or family member to check areas that you cannot see such as your back, neck, and scalp. Checking once a month is usually adequate.

Skin cancer may itch or bleed, depending on the type that is present. It may present as a sore that seems to heal before opening up again.

Diagnosing cutaneous cancer

Skin cancer is often diagnosed based on a physical examination. Cells may be removed and sent to a lab for a biopsy. This allows your doctor to confirm the presence of skin cancer and the type that is present.

Cutaneous cancer treatment

In most cases, having the skin cancer surgically removed can cure cutaneous cancer with minimal damage. However, skin cancer that has been left untreated for some time may require more aggressive treatment. In some cases, skin cancer may metastasize into the lymph nodes or other tissue.

Early detection and prompt action is the key to full recovery from skin cancer. By performing regular self-exams and having a doctor examine your skin annually, you can increase your chances of catching cancer early and seeing a complete cure.