There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. While basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas account for 95 percent of all skin cancers, melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and accounts for more than 75 percent of all deaths due to skin cancer. Each year about 48,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States, and 3,700 cases are diagnosed in Canada. The single greatest risk factor is sun exposure, especially during childhood. Melanoma occurs more frequently in people with fair skin and freckles.
Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, cells that produce the skin pigment known as melanin, but is likely to spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms include any change in the size, shape, color, or texture of a mole or other darkly pigmented area of the skin. Any mole that begins to itch or becomes tender may be a sign of skin cancer. Other signs include sores that do not heal or black spots under a toenail or fingernail that extend beneath the cuticle. For melanoma patients, the five-year survival rate in the United States is 88 percent and climbs to almost 96 percent if the cancer is detected early.
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