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Spot check: Why most people can’t ID the most common skin cancers

woman at the beach
(Photo: Daily Glow)


Melanoma gets a ton of media attention. And $10K plates at fancy fundraisers because it’s the most serious and potentially fatal type of skin cancer.

But, in fact, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are more common, according to Tribeca-based dermatologist Alexis Granite, MD, who doesn’t want you to miss the signs of these overlooked cancers, just because there’s no splashy red carpet Waldorf-Astoria dinner for them.

Fast facts: While 120,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma annually, basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer, with about 2 million diagnoses. And more than 700,000 Americans are found to have squamous cell cancer each year.

These skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, so those with fair complexions or who shun sunscreen are more at risk—as is anyone whose childhood or adolescence included a blistering sunburn or two. (No wonder they’re so prevalent!)

IDing skin cancer
Alexis Granite, MD

Also worth knowing: basal and squamous cell skin cancers look different than a dark or oddly shaped mole, the tell-tale sign of melanoma. So they can be tricky for the lay person to spot, explains Dr. Granite. “They tend to take the form of a rough or peeling patch of skin or a bleeding spot that doesn’t heal.”

Anytime you’re concerned about a new or changing spot on your skin, a dermatologist should take a look, she says. Although basal and squamous cell cancers aren’t deadly, you really do want to remove them early, when they’re diagnosed, so they don’t spread. (Treatment can range from application of a topical cream to surgery.)

How to protect yourself from these types of skin cancer? Wear sunscreen, stay clear of tanning beds (and, hey, of tanning in general), and have a baseline exam once a year. Let’s throw a red-carpet party for reducing the skin-cancer statistics.  —Nina Pearlman